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Other Plants Have Cannabinoids But Can They Be Used for Medicine?

Randy Robinson
Bunch of Carrots on wooden floor close up

There are cannabinoids and terpenes present in other different plants, so why is cannabis illegal?

Cannabinoids may be one of the most biologically versatile molecules known to us. Centuries of folk use and decades of scientific research seem to be pointing us in this direction. Even the gold standards of medical science – pharmaceutical companies – are proving this right now with the advent cannabinoid-based of drugs like Sativex, Epidiolex and Marinol.

However, cannabis isn’t the only plant that contains cannabinoids. There are many others, and yes, entrepreneurs are already discovering ways to extract these non-cannabis phytocannabinoids.

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compound that interact with proteins on living cells called CB receptors (“CB” stands for “cannabinoid”). Most cannabinoids, by shape and structure, resemble the molecule CBG, a precursor for THC and CBD.

The common way to model the way cannabinoids work on CB receptors is known as the lock-and-key model: the cannabinoid acts like a key that fits into the CB receptor’s lock. Open the lock, and the CB receptor initiates chemical signaling cascades that help us feel calm, sleepy or hungry.

The word “cannabinoid” does come from the word “cannabis,” but as you can guess, cannabis doesn’t hold the monopoly on these chemicals. “Phytocannabinoid” refers to any cannabinoid derived from any plant (“phyto-“ is Greek for “plant”).

Hops being held in man's hands

Hops have CBD

CBD is perhaps the most famous phytocannabinoid found outside of cannabis. It’s found, not too surprisingly, in hops, the grain used to make beer. Genetically, hops is a close cousin to cannabis, as they both belong in the cannabinaceae family. There are not, however, great amounts of CBD in hops, but enough that some manufacturers are looking into extracts.

CBD products made from hemp or cannabis exist in a legal gray area, and some US states treat non-psychoactive CBD oils as if they were dabs. (Because, as the argument goes, these products still contain trace amounts of THC.) In the United States, the Controlled Substances Act – the big, bad federal law that classifies cannabis as dangerous as heroin – only bans phytocannabinoids extracted from “cannabis.” Phytocannabinoids that come from any other plant technically do not fall under the federal government’s jurisdiction.

The phytos-in-other-plants connection hasn’t been lost on the markets, either. A few months ago, one California-based company realized it could skirt federal law by offering a CBD oil made from – you guessed it – hops. And last year, Canada’s Canopy Growth, a cannabis cultivation company, partnered with Corona beer’s Constellation Brands for a landmark $4 billion deal to manufacture a weeded (non-alcoholic) ale.

Phytocannabinoid Oil vs Pure CBD

Some companies sell medicinal products called hemp or phytocannabinoid oils while others distribute CBD oils. What’s the difference, and which one is right for patients?

You’ll need to check the ingredients on the labels first, but typically CBD oils refer to carrier oils like grapeseed or sunflower seed oils infused with pure CBD extract. These oils contain only whatever terpenes and cannabinoids that grow naturally in the carrier oil, plus CBD. Phytocannabinoid oils, namely hemp oils, contain the wide spectrum of cannabinoids alongside CBD.

There is very little research on this. However, the science indicates that CBD works best when you combine it with other cannabinoids, namely THC. Due to the ensemble, or entourage, effect, you’ll get the most phytocannabinoids from a full-spectrum hemp oil as opposed to a pure CBD oil.

Additionally, the US FDA does not regulate CBD, some products contain questionable amounts of the compound. A study done a couple of years back looked at 84 different CBD products and found major discrepancies in the majority of products tested. Some contained too little CBD, others contained too much. Some didn’t have any CBD at all.

Before purchasing a phytocannabinoid or CBD oil, do your homework on it first. Check to see if they’ve got lab data available for their products, or that they’re a tried-and-trusted name.

What About Cannabinoids in The Other Plants?

Hops contains some CBD, but outside of booze, its utility is small. Other plants with phytocannabinoids are not nearly as cannabinoid-rich as cannabis, but they all have something to contribute.

Carrots. Beta-carophyllene is one of cannabis’s prominent terpenes. But remember that phytocannabinoids are any plant chemicals interacting with our endocannabinoid system? Beta-carophyllene sticks to our CB2 receptors, the receptors responsible for regulating our immune responses. It also appears in hops, as well as basil, oregano, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, lavender and rosemary.

Echinacea. This herb is full of alkylamides that mimic cannabinoids and stimulate CB2 receptors.

Red grapes. The skins of red grapes contain a phytocannabinoid called resveratrol, which could have many of the same medicinal qualities as our favorite cannabinoids THC and CBD (anti-tumor, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, etc.). Some scientists believe resveratrol is the wonder compound responsible for red wine’s reported health benefits, but other scientists recently challenged this claim.

Salvia. The legal trip available at headshops may work its magic because salvinorin, one of its active components, works on our CB receptors.

Cocoa. There is some research suggesting chocolate contains anandamide, the endocannabinoid produced by our own bodies that mimics THC. If this turns out to be true, then anandamide is not only an endocannabinoid but a phytocannabinoid as well.

Cocoa beans in a bag and chocolate in front

If Cannabinoids are in Other Plants, The War on Weed is BS

There are new companies attempting to create full-spectrum phytocannabinoid-rich oils from non-cannabis plants. The idea behind this? Federal and local authorities can’t arrest people for these products; they are not cannabis.

The insanity of federal laws, however, does highlight how ridiculous the war on cannabis truly is. Outside of THC, other cannabinoids and terpenes grow in completely legal plants.

If THC is the cancer-causing, brain-damaging compound the federal government says it is, why is Marinol – a drug composed entirely of synthetic THC – a Schedule III drug? If pure THC is Schedule III, why is the cannabis plant classified Schedule I alongside heroin? This implies that there are other components of cannabis, besides THC, that make it highly addictive and deadly. To date, the National Institute of Drug Abuse will not identify these components.

Could it be because these other components are found in other completely safe and completely legal plants? Could it be because the drug war narrative is all bullocks? And that the feds are finally realizing they can’t keep the lid shut on this box much longer?

Randy Robinson

As someone who wanted to know everything but couldn't decide on anything, Randy completed degrees in English, World History, and Molecular Biology. During their studies, they received an externship at the biotech firm Cannabis Science Inc., focusing on phytocannabinoids as anti-tumor and anti-cancer agents. Based in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, you can find Randy on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium @RanDieselJay

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