The Chemistry of Cannabis

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With California recently legalizing recreational use of marijuana, cannabis is back in the news. As it doesn’t appear as though the trend of legalization is ever going to go in the opposite direction, it will be helpful to understand the chemistry behind this increasingly popular plant and how it affects the body when ingested.

Understanding Cannabinoids

No discussion about cannabis would be complete without bringing up cannabinoids. These are the chemical compounds that are concealed within the cannabis flowers. When ingested, they imitate compounds that are naturally produced by our bodies called endocannabinoids.

These compounds are responsible for maintaining internal health and overall stability. This is why so many people use cannabis to fight inflammation, nausea and even all-out pain.

Whole books have been dedicated to describing how cannabinoids work. In simplest terms, they facilitate communication between cells. That’s why a lack of endocannabinoids can have such unpleasant consequences.

Cannabinoids Inside Your Body

Though we just mentioned the complexity of the subject, let’s explore the chemistry of consuming cannabinoids in a bit more detail. After consumption, they bind to receptor sites all throughout tour brain. These particular sites are known as CB-1. They will also bind to these sites throughout your body. Those are known as CB-2.

There are more than 100 different cannabinoids, so the particular effects cannabis has depends on the ones that are present. That’s because each binds to different receptors. This helps to explain how cannabis can be used as medicine. More and more, medical researchers are learning which cannabinoids bind to which receptors and what kind of result that has.

The Medicinal Strengths of Various Cannabinoids

Fortunately, lots of progress has already been made on this front. Below, we’ve listed a few of the cannabinoids present in cannabis and the kinds of ailments they can provide relief for.

  • THC: cramps, sleep apnea, migraines, Crohn’s disease, ADHD, hypertension
  • CBD: stress, PTSD, nausea, arthritis, epilepsy
  • CBC: multiple sclerosis, insomnia, inflammation, depression

As you can see, that’s a pretty diverse list. Interestingly, though synthetic cannabinoids exist (e.g. Nabilone, Marinol, Rimonabant, etc.), herbal cannabis has proven to have far greater beneficial effects.

THC

Many people think of THC as synonymous with cannabis. By now, though, you should understand that it is just one of many different cannabinoids. The reason why it gets so much more attention is because tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for the majority of the psychological effects associated with marijuana. When you consume THC and it binds to your brain’s receptors, it affects things like:

  • Movements
  • Thoughts
  • Pleasure
  • Memory
  • Coordination
  • Concentration
  • Time Perception
  • Sensory Perception

Of course, most people simply associate THC with the euphoric feeling they receive when using cannabis. That’s because THC activates cells in the brain that release dopamine.

Usually, THC begins working at between 10 and 30 minutes after it’s taken. After that, the effects last, on average, for two hours.

There is no uniform amount of THC across strains of cannabis. Many types of cannabis are used for industrial purposes. They usually have 0.3% by weight or even less. Other strains have 20% THC by weight.

In marijuana, the average concentration of THC is between 1% and 5%. In hashish, it’s between 5% and 15%. The highest concentration amongst cannabis products is hashish oil, which has an average of 20% by weight.

Whether you use cannabis or not, you should now have a better idea of the chemistry involved with ingesting this plant. As legalization and research continue, you should expect more information to come forward and shed more light on the possibilities that cannabis holds.

 


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