To understand the importance of hemp and cannabinoids on our bodies, the key is to start with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its role in our health and well-being. If you’ve never heard of the ECS, you’re not alone. It was discovered in the 1990’s and it is an important part of our health and wellness.
The purpose of the Endocannabinoid System is to maintain balance in our body. When our bodies are in balance, it is also referred to as Homeostasis. The ECS modulates almost every physiological process in the body including:
All of these processes are influenced by our genetics and epi-genetics (also known as environmental factors) and are all modulated by the ECS.
The ECS fine-tunes our cellular processes, keeping them in check. Unlike all other neurotransmitters in the body which transmit signals from the periphery to the brain, the ECS works in a retrograde manner (sending signals from the brain to the periphery) thus blocking the pain signals.
There are three main areas that make up the ECS:
The ECS helps create balance in your body. Key features of it include:
It’s important to know that numerous studies have been and are being conducted showing that a deficiency in the ECS may be responsible for, or contribute to many chronic illnesses.
A cannabinoid is a molecule that activates molecular messengers, regardless of whether the cannabinoid came from our bodies (an Endocannabinoid), or if it came from a plant (a Phytocannabinoid).
Phytocannabinoids are molecules made by Cannabis Sativa L. plants., which include both Cannabis and Hemp plants. There are over 120 known Phytocannabinoids in Cannabis/Hemp plants. The most popular of these are Cannabidiol (CBD) and Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These are commonly referred to as major cannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids are commonly used to treat a number of human and animal ailments.
Neurologist and Cannabinoid Pharmacologist Dr. Ethan Russo, known as the father of American Cannabis, has postulated that many of the chronic health problems people face, may be due to an underlying endocannabinoid deficiency, including migraines and fibromyalgia. Many people have reported decreased symptoms with the use of Phytocannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids activate the same receptors in the body as Endocannabinoids. This explains why there is enormous medical potential for the use of Phytocannabinoids.
Of the over 120 Cannabinoids found, most are considered minor Cannabinoids. Current thought is that the ratio of CBD to THC along with these minor Cannabinoids and Terpenes are responsible for the therapeutic claims. Some of the more popular/prevalent Phytocannabinoids are currently being studied include:
Information about the benefits of Phytocannabinoids has led to their use by people all over the world.
The knowledge of how the endocannabinoid system relates to our physiology and medical needs grows on a daily basis. We know that Phytocannabinoids act on many different types of receptors in the body.
Hemp constituents include:
It wouldn’t be a good education about cannabinoids without discussing Terpenes!
Terpenes are fragrant oils produced by plants and are believed to function as a way to attract pollinators and/or repel pests.
The cannabis plant produces a wide variety of different terpenes (over 200), yet none are specific to the cannabis plant. The most common being:
Terpenes are by far, the most underrated compounds in cannabis. They seem to take a backseat to the more popular Phyto-Cannabinoids in popularity when discussing therapeutic potential.
Terpenes are fragile, volatile compounds that are easily lost during the extraction process in an effort to extract the more popular Phyto-Cannabinoids.
It’s important to know that the commonly used Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extraction process separates Terpenes from cannabinoids. In order to return the end product to its natural state, the terpenes must be added back – often from other sources.
Terpene manufacturers are able to create products that closely mimic those of the original plant.
There are three main sources of Terpenes used in this process:
However, recently, worldwide attention has focused on efforts to determine if the terpene profile of a particular cultivar is equally (if not more important) than the cannabinoid profile when determining its potential therapeutic effect(s).
Terpenes in cannabis are rapidly becoming recognized as the biggest determining factor for the effects (both physical and psychoactive), of specific cannabis cultivars (aka strains).
While research into the medical benefits of terpenes is in the beginning stages, all of the published data pertains to the effects of isolated terpenes in pre-clinical (non-human) rodent studies.
The best thing that can happen is when we know what different kinds of cannabinoids and terpenes are in a plant, and correlate those to reported effects. What we do know, is that the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids are more therapeutic when working together – cannabinoids, terpenes, and other parts of the plant. This is known as the “Entourage Effect.”
As of today, the following benefits have been shown in rodents but there are no robust human trials showing these benefits…yet.
The “Entourage Effect” describes how the various molecules of the cannabis plant interact with each other to produce the unique effects of various cultivars. Cannabis constituents include:
Many researchers who work closely with cannabis and hemp plants believe the entourage effect can dramatically increase the medicinal utility of the Phyto-Cannabinoids THC and CBD, either by magnifying their known effects or by expanding their menu of therapeutic applications.
Laboratory tests may someday prove that the entourage effect is real. We are not sure yet, but we have started to see the evidence. People who use medical cannabis or hemp have different experiences depending on what products they use, and the chemical composition of those products.