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How Cannabinoid Pathways Work in Your Brain

Philip Ghezelbash
cannabinoid pathways, THC, THCV, CBD, raw cannabis, heated, decarboxylate

Knowledge about cannabinoid pathways can improve the benefits you receive from medical cannabis.

When it comes to cannabis most people just think of a joint, rather than the complex chemical structure of the plant itself. However, the different compounds and cannabinoid pathways are incredibly fascinating to learn about. 

Cannabis is made up of different cannabinoids and terpenes that make use of the body’s cannabinoid pathways, all of which play varying roles and react differently depending on how metabolic pathways and method of consumption. For instance, you may have heard of CBD (cannabidiol) or THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) as these are two of the most common cannabinoids in cannabis. But, there are many more cannabinoids that have varied life cycles and differing uses. We’re going to take a look at four of them now.

The CBG Family 

One cannabinoid that you may not have heard of is CBG, or cannabigerol. CBG is a non-psychotropic cannabinoid that is formed from cannabigerolic acid or CBGa. Heat exposure converts CBGa into CBG.

While more research is needed to understand the effects of CBGa, it is thought that CBGa might provide an anti-inflammatory effect by inhibiting prostaglandin production. Prostaglandins are active lipid compounds that promote inflammation

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CBG is the non-acidic form of CBGa. Researchers believe that CBG holds a lot of potential as a therapeutic tool for a range of concerns. For example, like CBGa, CBG has been shown to decrease inflammation. However, it has also been shown to act as a neuron protector against Huntington’s disease, have antibacterial properties, stimulate appetite, and even inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

How do You Get the Most CBG From Cannabis?

CBGa is not the most common cannabinoid so if you want its benefits, you’ll need to seek out a strain rich in this compound. The strain Sour Diesel is reportedly richer in CBGa.  

To get the benefits of CBGa, use non-heating techniques to consume the cannabis. Eat it raw, or add the plant to foods that don’t require heat, such as smoothies

For the benefits of CBG, heat the cannabis to ensure the CBGa converts to CBG through decarboxylation. Techniques, such as smoking or vaporizing, would ensure this. But good old-fashioned decarbing for baking medibles would work as well.

The THC Family 

THC is one of the most familiar cannabinoids, well known for its intoxicating effects. 

THC starts off as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, or THCa. THCa converts into THC through slowly drying the cannabis plant, or rapidly through heat exposure. THCa can also form cannabinolic acid, or CBNa, which is a non-psychoactive. Additionally, THC can go on to form delta-8-THC or cannabinol (CBN)

The preliminary research into THCa suggests that this compound induces positive therapeutic effects. One study showed that THCa may reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of prostaglandin, much like CBGa. THCa has also been shown to provide a neuroprotective effect and possibly even reduce the proliferation of prostate cancer cells

THC is the non-acidic form of THCa and is much better studied than its acidic former self. Research shows that THC has the potential to reduce nausea and pain, increase appetite, and act as an anti-inflammatory.  

Unlike THCa or THC, there is very little research into CBNa and its effects. However, anecdotal evidence shows that it may act as an anti-inflammatory.

Delta-8-THC is a form of THC that binds to the cannabinoid receptor CB1. Researchers believe this compound potentially has anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, and neuroprotective properties.

Not to be confused with cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN) is thought to be only mildly psychotropic. Research tells us that CBN may have antibacterial properties, increase appetite, and work as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and sedative.

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Eating raw cannabis can be just as beneficial as smoking or consuming oils.

Getting the Most From THC

Any strain claiming to be rich in THC, like Ghost Train Haze or Kosher Kush, should induce the effects of the THC family. The consumption method will determine which THC form you get. 

Fresh forms of the cannabis plant are required for THCa. You don’t want the THCa to convert into THC so it needs to be consumed without heat. Techniques such as eating raw and adding to salads or as toppings are ideal. 

To gain the benefits of THC, on the other hand, you’ll need heat. So methods such as smoking or vaporizing are ideal. 

Age, but don’t heat, your cannabis to turn THCa into CBNa. Consumption methods such as eating raw or adding to uncooked foods are ideal, after the aging process is done. Another benefit of aging is the breakdown products of CBD and delta-8-THC. 

THCV Family

THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin is a psychotropic cannabinoid similar to THC. Tetrahydrocannabivaniric acid (THCVa) turns into THCV with the application of heat. THCV can also develop to CBN with age. 

THCVa may have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects. And research tells us that THCV may act as an appetite suppressant, regulate blood sugar levels, and stimulate bone growth. In that way, THCV is a good health management cannabinoid for those with diabetes. This cannabinoid could clearly be incredibly important in our aging population.

Find a Strain High in THCV

To benefit from THCVa, ensure you are consuming a rich THCV strain without heat. As with the other raw cannabinoids mentioned above, the best way to benefit is to eat it raw or adding to unheated foods or drinks. 

Meanwhile, to experience THCV’s benefits, you must convert the THCVa into THCV with heat and decarboxylation. Smoking, vaping, or making medibles are the most effective methods. You’ll need THCV-rich strain, like Durban Poison, to get the benefits of THCV. 

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CBD Family 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the main cannabinoids in cannabis, and one with which you’re likely very familiar. People love this compound for its non-psychotropic health benefits. For this reason, more states and countries have legalized CBD than cannabis itself. Cannabidiolic acid (CBDa), the raw cannabinoid, decarboxylates into CBD. 

CBDa may have anti-cancer properties and potentially also act as an antiemetic. Its converted form, CBD, shows potential as an anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, pain reliever, neuroprotector, as well as possibly having anti-cancer properties. Of course, you just have to take a quick scan of our website to see that this list of CBD’s benefits is far from comprehensive.

CBD-rich Strains Can be Smoked

You’ll need a CBD-rich strain to feel the effects of either CBDa or CBD. Strains such as Harlequin, Ringo’s Gift, and ACDC claim to have high CBD levels. 

Consume CBDa without heat to prevent conversion into CBD. Raw consumption methods are best. Once heated, CBDa will turn into CBD, so methods including smoking or vaporizing are best. But you’ve likely see the wide range of CBD products that have graced the markets. If you don’t want to smoke, skip the heat and move straight onto an extract. Don’t forget to do your research, though, as contaminated CBD oil can be dangerous.

This exploration of cannabinoid pathways is far from comprehensive. You can think of it as a primer. There are hundreds of compounds in cannabis and cannabinoid pathways (and counting!) that still need research and discovery. It’s an exciting time to be alive, and an even more exciting time for the progression of modern medicine.

Philip Ghezelbash

Philip Ghezelbash is an ex-personal trainer with a science background who currently operates New Zealand's only health specialized writing studio. He is passionate about presenting complex science in an easy to digest manner and is a firm believer that cannabis has substantial potential to be used as a medicine for degenerative disease.

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    According to your chart CBD is Immunosupresive. I thought it helped improve the immune system?

    July 26, 2019 at 11:59 pm Reply
    • Jennifer Grant

      Hi Sean – cannabinoids, in general, are typically immunosuppressive. But, that also depends on dosage, the disease the user treats with cannabis, and the receptor numbers in the target tissue. Here is an interesting article that looks at booth sides and how cannabis is actually able to do both:

      July 28, 2019 at 8:26 am Reply

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