What are the Active Ingredients in Cannabis?
Cannabis features many beneficial ingredients. These chemical components work together to form a “complete” medicine. This cooperative collection of potent medical molecules is known as the “Entourage Effect”. There are 116 phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids in plants) found in cannabis as well as countless other (possibly beneficial) compounds.
What makes Cannabis a truly unique medicine are the many different compound profiles available in the multitude of cannabis strains being developed. Strains can be grown with higher levels of specific compounds targeting the desired treatment. For instance, there are strains with low levels of psychoactive ingredients yet they are rich in other beneficial non-psychoactive cannabinoids like Cannabidiol.
Here are the most commonly listed ingredients found on medicinal Cannabis packaging:
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid – THC-A
THC-A, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is a compound in cannabis that is the precursor to THC, yet THC-A actually has very different properties than THC. Unlike THC, THC-A is found in fresh cannabis and the dried flowers. As the plant dries out, THC-A slowly converts to THC. Heat speeds up the conversion in the process known as decarboxylation that changes the molecule with the removal of a carboxyl group and the release of carbon dioxide. Cannabis products labeled with a high THC-A number will yield more THC when ingested using heat. (smoking, vaping and cooking)
THC-A has medicinal qualities without being intoxicating. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid has been found to be an antiemetic, relieving the feeling of nausea. THC-A is used as an anti inflammatory treatment, showing signs of relieving the discomfort of arthritis. There are studies in progress that may reveal THC-A’s neuroprotective properties and cancer treatment possibilities.
Tetrahydrocannabinol – THC
Tetrahydrocannabinol is the compound that made Cannabis famous. THC is the primary source of the high one receives with Cannabis. THC works by binding to cannabinoid receptors concentrated in the brain and central nervous system to produce psychoactive effects. A high level of THC-A in the dried flower translates into a high level of THC after decarboxylation (heating).
The euphoric effect that is the reason for Cannabis’ popularity is very useful as a treatment for many types of pain and discomfort. Clinical testing has shown THC to ease spasticity in MS patients, control Turrets and even help lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s. THC has been effectively used to treat anorexia in people with HIV/AIDS as well as for nausea and vomiting in people undergoing chemotherapy. The uses for this molecule as a medicinal product have yet to be fully explored and I expect many more findings now that legalization is upon us.
Cannabidiolic Acid – CBD-A
Found in fresh Cannabis, Cannabidiolic Acid or CBD-A is the precursor to the molecule, CBD or cannabidiol. Like THC-A, decarboxylation changes the molecule to create the more widely known medicine CBD.
While not psychoactive, Cannabidiolic Acid may have anti-emetic effects as well as anti-proliferative effects, making it ideal for fighting cancer. It also has been shown to be an anti-inflammatory and to possess anti-bacterial properties. Most importantly, CBD-A is key in producing the more sought after medicine CBD.
Cannabidiol – CBD
Cannabidiol is the molecule found throughout the Cannabis plant that has shown the most promise as a medicine. Currently (2017) CBD products are legal in the US as it does not make one high.
CBD may be of value in treating epilepsy and tests have shown significant efficacy against Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy in infants that is difficult to treat. It has shown promise in the treatment of anxiety and psychosis, having a calming effect on afflicted patients. Cannabidiol has been used to treat depression, alcoholism, diabetes, chronic pain, schizophrenia and PTSD. CBD has demonstrable neuroprotective affects and its anti-cancer properties are currently being investigated. This is a medicine you’ll want to watch or maybe invest in as it appears to be a miracle drug!
Cannabinol – CBN
Another non-psychoactive cannabinoid, Cannabinol is found in trace amounts in dried, lower quality Cannabis.
CBN is most known as a treatment for insomnia. It has shown promise as an anti-inflammatory and it works well to stimulate appetite. Cannabinol has been shown to have analgesic properties as well.
Cannabichromene – CBC
Cannabichromene is another non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid that is the result of the decarboxilization of cannabichromenic acid (CBC-A).
Cannabichromene may help in protecting neurons from damage, pain relief, suppressing nausea and vomiting. Evidence has suggested that CBC may play a role in the anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects of cannabis, and it may have also antifungal properties. Currently being studied are cannabichromene’s effect on Acne, Bone Density and Cancer. Cannabichromene was also shown to have a significant effect on depression.
There are a heckuva lot more phytocannabiniods in Cannabis that will surely show promise as medicine. It is important to remember that endocannabiniods are found in mother’s milk and our own Endocannabinoid system is not completely understood. Cannabis has more than 100 phytocannabinoids that may interact with our Endocannabinoid system and could have an effect on humans.
While not the primary compounds cannabis users are seeking and usually not found on the ingredient list, Terpenes are responsible for cannabis’ aromatic properties. Terpenoids come in many “flavors” ranging from fruity to piney. It is thought that terpenes have an important synergistic role in cannabis as a medicine, tempering the psychoactive effects and assisting medicinal adsorption.
Cannabis also contains over 20 flavonoids, compounds common in most plant life. Cannaflavonoids are exclusive to cannabis and are considered to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties and may help prevent major diseases including cancer.
Legalization will open new doors and present a better opportunity to study Cannabis. With these possibilities on the horizon, I have no doubt the truth about this amazing plant will come to light and Cannabis will gain the respect it deserves.