Cannabis is often in the news. There is much written about it being illegal, legal, or medically legal. There are articles on how it grows and how to get it to grow better. There are articles on how it’s a drug and how it’s a medicine. However, the piece that is rarely reported on is the components of cannabis, including THC, and how they make the body work.
The Use of Chemical Compounds by Plants
If a plant creates a compound that does not directly contribute to its ability to grow and reproduce, then there is usually an indirect reason for its production. The two main reasons that a plant will use an indirect chemical is to deter predators or to encourage pollinators and/or seed spreaders. Predators can be deterred by something that tastes bad, or by something toxic to them. Pollinators are drawn to showy flowers, and seeds that are surrounded by yummy fruit can be pooped out and spread the location of the plant. The book The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan suggests that the chemical compound of certain plants was used to entice people to spread them as well. Though the compounds in cannabis were originally used, most likely, to discourage insect predators, their effects on people had enough of an effect to spread this plant worldwide.
Why Chemicals Have an Effect on the Body
A chemical can only work in locations where there are receptors for the chemical. Receptors are locations on the body where, if the right thing is plugged in, something will happen. Depending on which of the compounds are plugged in, it works like a set of instructions to the body to release certain hormones, bring in blood cells, or allow for different brain pathways to change the processing of current information (this can result in a high, pain relief, memory loss or something else, depending on the compound). They are similar to the charge ports on today’s electronic devices. To get them to work, you need to have the right shape of port on your cord. In this case, the cord is THC or one of the other cannabis chemical compounds. Looking at the medical reason for it is like examining this natural wiring. Cannabis has two kinds of chemical compounds, called terpenes and cannabinoids. Terpenes are responsible for the different smells of the cannabis strains, while cannabinoids are responsible for the medical effects, as well as the high. Here is a look at the chemicals that are contained in cannabis, their effect on the body, and why they work that way:
The most well-known chemical compound in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. There are two varieties, known as 9-THC and 8-THC. This compound is known for its high, and because of this, cannabis has a very unique history in the plant world. While most plants which are used by people will be bred for the size, color, or taste of an item, cannabis was instead bred for the concentration of this chemical in the plant. Hemp, A different strain, subspecies or species, depending on who you talk to, was bred instead for the fibrous consistency and oil content of the plant. This means that the current day cannabis strains may be very different than those which were originally discovered in locations like Ancient Egypt. This is most concentrated in the plant’s flower buds, though it can be found, along with other compounds, in every part of the plant.
How THC works in the body
THC has two different receptor site location types. The first is located in the brain, where type CB1 receptors live, and the second is on some of the immune organs, like the spleen and lymph nodes. These are called type CB2 receptors. In type CB1, the high is found. In type CB2, there is the ability to suppress immune system function.
What Does the Body use CB1 and CB2 Receptors For?
It is important to note that the body does not have receptors, usually, to take in outside chemicals. Instead, these are areas that are activated by the body’s natural hormones in times of need. The change in perception created by type CB1 receptors have been shown by the body to be a coping mechanism for times of undue stress. The body can activate these during times of crisis or extreme physical exertion, like childbirth, in order to keep the full memory of the event from creating PTSD responses. The nausea center of the brain can also be tempered by THC, allowing an easier reaction from chemotherapy. CB2 receptors are immune suppression locations. When the body is in the middle of an autoimmune attack, where it is killing itself to fight an unseen enemy such as an allergy, these receptors can slow down the response and keep it from doing too much damage to the body. Medically, this receptor can theoretically be used to protect the body from foreign objects like surgical pins and even transplanted organs.
Other compounds in Cannabis:
The pharmacological uses for many of the other cannabinols have been of increasing interest as the allowance of cannabis for medical purposes has become more mainstream. Dozens of these compounds exist with a multitude of properties. Here is a small sampling of them and their medicinal applications:
- Cannabichromene: This is the second most abundant cannabinol compound in the body. It affects the CB1 receptors by stimulating neurogenesis, or brain growth and fights depression. Its use of the same receptors along the spine can be a pain reliever. By way of the CB2, swelling or edema can be reduced. For those with digestive fungal and bacterial overgrowth, it also has an antifungal and antibacterial component. This can be found in all plant parts, and usually must be chemically extracted to use as an isolated compound.
- Cannabidiol (CBD): This antioxidant stimulates the seizure center of the brain to stop convulsive attacks. It also seems to have anti-tumor properties. This is a nonpsychotic compound (no high) found in many parts of both cannabis and hemp, and often utilized through the oil.
The many effects of the cannabis compounds on the body are just beginning to be discovered. The vast knowledge of cultivation techniques to increase THC levels, taste varieties and other effects can also be used to design medical-centric cannabis strains designed for more effective treatment of certain conditions. Already this is being done to creates strains of cannabis that don’t give the high but do contain the other medically significant compounds. This particular science is in its infancy, though the knowledge of pharmacology and specific medical effects of different compounds will surely make this one of the fastest growing sectors of the cannabis industry.
Pollan, Michael: The Botany of Desire
Onaivi, Emmanuel: The Biology of Cannabis