What’s unique about exogenous phytocannabinoids, or those found outside of the body?
The cannabis plant is unique because it is the only species that produces cannabinoids at such an elevated level. Some other plants, such as echinacea, have cannabinoids in them. But the cannabis plant is a veritable pharmacopeia of cannabinoids. However, it’s currently hard to make FDA-approved drugs out of the plant because all the dozens of cannabinoids have different interactions in the body. GW Pharmaceuticals, the company that developed the drug, Sativex for example, has bred plants to contain only specific cannabinoids. These are not plants that would normally exist in nature.
THC is the most common phytocannabinoid. It’s psychoactive, it releases endorphins, and it causes euphoria in the body. It’s also an analgesic, which means it reduces or regulates the firing of pain nerves. If we have an active nervous system firing out the pain message over and over again, THC and CBD have both been shown to reduce that pain. THC also mimics the endogenous cannabinoid, anandamide.
My view is that cannabinoids which are proven to reduce pain are essential in helping to reduce patient intake of dangerous opioids. There’s some debate about whether we should be legalizing another drug when there’s this huge drug problem with opioids. But when people who use opioid pain killers have access to cannabis in their community legal dispensaries and use it as part of their pain regiment, they use fewer opioids. There are also fewer opioid overdose deaths reported in ERs.
I know the debate is not fully settled on marijuana addiction, but we’re talking about people dying from opioids – a legal prescription drug that’s supposed to reduce pain. When we have another nontoxic, plant-based medicine that can reduce pain and opioid usage, it’s a no-brainer. This is something that should be present and available to anyone who suffers chronic pain or is in danger of having an opioid overdose.
The other phytocannabinoid is CBD. It brings down anxiety, reduces pain, and relaxes muscles – all without being psychoactive, so it does not have a strong effect on the body. It doesn’t alter our consciousness the way THC does. And here’s where we’re going to get a little bit more complex. This is a geeky part of cannabis.
There are less common cannabinoids, but the research on them is intriguing. CBG and CBN, cannabigerol and cannabidiol respectively, are less psychoactive than THC. However, they’re sedative. They’re sleep inducing. CBN has also been shown to fight the MERSA virus, a really strong virus that’s hard to kill. CBG is also antimicrobial. THC and CBD have precursor molecules as well, raw cannabinoids that exist before they become heated. THCA is basically the raw cannabis plant. It has been shown to help inflammation without the high. If somebody has hives or pain from inflammation, they could try THCA and not get high from it. It’s really fascinating.