The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is critical for almost every aspect of our moment-to-moment functioning. The ECS regulates and controls many of our most critical bodily functions such as learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses, and eating. The ECS comprises a vast network of chemical signals and cellular receptors that are densely packed throughout our brains and bodies.
CB1 receptors outnumber many of the other receptor types in the brain. They act like traffic cops to control the levels and activity of most of the other neurotransmitters. This is how they regulate things: by immediate feedback, turning up or down the activity of whichever system needs to be adjusted, whether that is hunger, temperature, or alertness. To stimulate these receptors, our bodies produce molecules called endocannabinoids, which have a structural similarity to molecules in the cannabis plant. The first endocannabinoid that was discovered was named anandamide after the Sanskrit word Ananda for bliss. All of us have tiny cannabis-like molecules floating around in our brains.
A second type of cannabinoid receptor, the CB2 receptor, exists mostly in our immune tissues and is critical to helping control our immune functioning, and it plays a role in modulating intestinal inflammation, contraction, and pain in inflammatory bowel conditions.
Cannabis terpenes are aromatic oils secreted by the resin glands of the plant with aromatic molecules that help give plants a particular taste or smell. They’re the reason why lavender imparts its signature soothing aroma and why certain marijuana strains have a citrusy, floral, or even woody flavor and scent. These are the same glands that create cannabinoids, the active ingredients in cannabis
The power of terpenes goes beyond affecting just the nose and tongue, however. While it has always been assumed that cannabinoids were the power behind marijuana’s effects, terpenes play a large role, as well. Terpenes can bind with the same receptors as cannabinoids to create various effects. This makes understanding terpenes a particularly useful bit of cannabis information, as it means that consumers can better customize their high or cannabis health benefits by knowing what terpenes they’re ingesting.
Given that marijuana terpenes differ from one strain to the next, this (in combination with cannabinoids) is why one strain can be wildly stimulating while another may cause intense drowsiness and relaxation. Researchers believe that the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes may be responsible for the entourage effect. The phenomenon in which its ingredients work differently (and often better) when consumed together rather than individually
Marijuana terpenes not only differ from one strain to the next, but they may also differ between harvests of the same strain. Each terpene demonstrates individual characteristics that influence the effects of the plant in which it’s found. While there are dozens of terpenes in marijuana, much of the knowledge and research has focused on the most common ones.
The most common terpene found in cannabis, myrcene imparts an earthy essence. It’s the terpene responsible for marijuana’s sedative “couch-lock” effects. It’s also known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
Linalool has a floral fragrance, with benefits that include anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and analgesic properties. They are also studies investigating the use of linalool in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Terpinolene relaxes with its gently sweet floral fragrance, but it also imparts herbal and woody notes. This terpene is an excellent sedative, as well as being antibacterial and having antioxidant properties.
Famous for its citrusy flavor and scent, limonene is also found in fruit rinds, as well as in peppermint, juniper, and rosemary. It has anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and anti-tumor properties, as well as being an anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
As may be guessed by its name, pinene is most commonly found in pine needles and imparts a definitive pine aroma. Pinene can be used to lessen some of the effects of THC. It also has analgesic, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor effects, as well as being excellent at treating asthma.
Cannabis causes a wide variety of effects, and those effects are due to its cannabinoids. They are such important compounds that without them, marijuana would be just another plant growing in the wild. They are active ingredients that are responsible for the way cannabis affects people whether they are enjoying it recreationally or using it to treat an illness. From euphoria to enhanced enjoyment of flavors, cannabinoids are able to significantly impact the brain and body. The reason they are able to do that is that they interact perfectly with the human endocannabinoid system.
Think of the endocannabinoid system as a network of electrical outlets in the central nervous system, including the brain. When various chemicals plug into these outlets, known as cannabinoid receptors, the receptors activate and specific things happen. The receptors control things like movement, mood, memory, pain sensation, and appetite.
To understand the effects of marijuana, it’s helpful to examine each cannabinoid individually. This is because there are many different types of cannabinoids and each one has different benefits and side effects. Some cause drowsiness, some suppress hunger, and others are excellent at calming anxiety.
Depending on the source, cannabis contains anywhere from 66 to as many as 113 cannabinoids. This makes compiling an exact list of cannabinoids a tricky endeavor, as most aren’t well-known or well-researched. Most research today is focused on the bigger players in the cannabinoid lineup. The “big six” are THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN, and THCV.