Are you curious about what makes hemp work? You may be just beginning to hear about the beneficial properties of CBD-rich hemp and wondering what kinds of effects you can expect. Or, perhaps you’re already enjoying the benefits smokable hemp flower has to offer and wondering how this plant can give you such a profound sense of relaxation without making you feel high.
Either way, both groups are curious to know more about the compounds in hemp and what they do. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the most common cannabinoids in hemp, what each one does, and how they work together with other hemp compounds.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Hemp plants contain over 120 cannabinoids, plant compounds that have a similar structure to the endocannabinoids our body produces. Both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids, the compounds in cannabis, interact with a network of receptors called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Our ECS serves as a master regulator and helps to keep many of our vital functions in balance, including:
- Body temperature
- Sleep cycles
- Pain response
How Cannabinoids Interact with Our Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system contains two types of receptors. CB1 receptors can be found in the brain and central nervous system. CB2 receptors are plentiful throughout the immune system, including the spleen, the tonsils, and white blood cells. Endocannabinoid receptors are conspicuously absent in the parts of the brain that contain opioid receptors, explaining why cannabis can never cause a fatal overdose.
Cannabinoids interact with ECS receptors in many different ways. Some bind directly to receptors, while others affect them more indirectly. Cannabinoids can also help boost levels of our natural endocannabinoids, 2-AG and anandamide. Low levels of endocannabinoids can produce a range of symptoms, and a severe lack may result in a condition called Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).
The Primary Cannabinoids in Hemp Plants
Cannabinoids exist in one form in the plants and another when they’re ready to be used by the body. While they remain in the plants, cannabinoids exist in their acidic form. CBD starts out as CBDA, THC as THCA, and so forth. After they’re decarboxylated through smoking, vaping, or cooking, cannabinoids transform and become available for the body to use.
Without further ado, here are the eight primary cannabinoids found in hemp.
Scientists discovered CBD in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s when medical cannabis states emerged that growers began breeding plants for their CBD content. Pioneers like Lawrence Ringo in northern California started to create high-CBD cultivars by breeding them with industrial hemp plants, which have naturally high CBD levels.
Since Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, the entire nation has access to a wide variety of premium CBD hemp flower strains. By now, most people have heard about CBD’s many therapeutic benefits, such as:
- Easing stress and tension
- Reducing inflammation
- Soothing aches and pains
- Fighting free radicals
- Protecting brain cells
- Promoting restful sleep
CBDV remains one of the lesser-known cannabinoids. Though more study is needed, preliminary research shows that CBDV may help combat nausea and epileptic seizures.
Researchers call CBG the “Mother Cannabinoid” as the compound is the precursor of several other cannabinoids. When CBG’s acidic form CBGA begins to break down in hemp flowers, it creates CBD, CBC, and THC.
Since CBGA quickly transforms into other cannabinoids, only around 1% of the CBG remains in mature hemp plants. CBG was only available in expensive extracts in the past, but these days, expert growers have successfully bred high-CBG hemp strains like Jack Frost, which features around 15% CBG.
Preliminary research on CBG points to a wide range of therapeutic properties, including:
CBG may help reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress associated with neurodegenerative disorders.
CBG has been shown to reduce intraocular pressure like its more psychoactive sister THC, making the compound potentially useful for treating glaucoma.
CBG may also be effective for calming the muscle spasms involved with certain bladder disorders.
Similar to CBD, the Mother Cannabinoid may also help with anxiety and chronic pain.
Therapeutically, CBC has much in common with CBD. Researchers predict that CBC will become an important compound in the future. Some of the potential benefits of CBC include:
CBC encourages apoptosis of cancer cells in breast tumors.
Like many cannabinoids, CBC shows promise as a neuroprotective agent, making the compound potentially helpful in treating disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
CBC inhibits the reuptake of anandamide like CBD does.
CBC may help with acne by interacting with endocannabinoid receptors in the sebaceous glands.
CBN is one of the compounds produced as THC ages. Cannabis dispensaries currently market CBN as a sleep aid, but CBN may offer a host of other benefits, such as:
Stimulating appetite and calming nausea
Fighting harmful microbes
Reducing intraocular pressure
CBM only occurs in small quantities in typical hemp plants. However, the compound has been found in high concentrations in hemp strains growing near the Italian village of Carmagnola. Scientists are currently studying CBM’s potential to help regulate blood sugar and treat metabolic disorders like diabetes.
Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
Delta-9 THC is the compound responsible for the intoxicating effects of recreational cannabis plants. Legal hemp plants contain less than .3% THC, which is far less than the amount needed to provoke any unwanted psychoactive effects. However, the small quantity of THC in hemp plants plays an essential role in the entourage effect, which we’ll discuss later.
Delta-8 THC (Delta-8)
Delta-8 is a mildly psychoactive compound that’s produced as regular delta-9 THC degrades. The compound offers many of the same benefits as regular THC without causing intense, intoxicating effects like paranoia and excessive sedation.
Although the compound only occurs in trace amounts in hemp, savvy hemp manufacturers have engineered delta-8 hemp flowers in a wide variety of different strains.
The Synergy of All the Compounds in Hemp Plants
All of the cannabinoids in hemp plants work in different ways, effectively balancing each other. For example, CBD and CBG both diminish THC’s psychoactive effects by making it harder for the molecule to bind with CB1 receptors.
Cannabinoids also work along with other hemp compounds like terpenes, flavonoids, and essential fatty acids to create the entourage effect. The entourage effect is a holistic synergy among all of the hemp compounds. Herbalists refer to this type of cooperation as “whole plant medicine.”
Most experts agree that all of the compounds working together are more effective than just one isolated cannabinoid. That’s why you’ll see many recommendations for full-spectrum CBD products. Full-spectrum means the CBD was extracted along with all of the rest of the beneficial hemp compounds. When you opt for whole hemp flower, you can be 100% sure that you’ll get all of the cannabinoids and other hemp compounds and get the benefits of the entourage effect.