Why Cannabinoids Are So Fascinating + 3 That Researchers Are Looking Into

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."
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Image by Liliya Rodnikova / Stocksy

Now that an increasing number of cannabis products are legal to buy and sell in the U.S., more doctors are open to having a dialogue with patients on how to use them safely and effectively.

June Chin, D.O., is one such doc: Chin, an integrative physician based in New York, has been using cannabis in her own life for decades to help manage the symptoms of an autoimmune disease. And over the years, she's watched the medical cannabis market emerge from hushed obscurity and start to find its place in the Western medical field.

"It's come a long way," Chin tells mbg. These days, she can legally recommend nonpsychoactive cannabis products like hemp extract to patients dealing with a wide range of health issues.

"It's a potent anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is a common thread of many diseases," Chin says of full-spectrum hemp products.* "So I've seen it work for many different things." While she notes that hemp is not a miracle cure, she has seen it help "bring the volume down" on a variety of symptoms experienced by patients of all ages—from children with seizures to older adults with dementia.*

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The key, she says, lies in the fact that hemp contains a wide array of plant compounds, known as cannabinoids. CBD is one of the most well-known, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the most important: "You have to think of it like a whole plant. If you're taking these molecules out of context, that's when you run into trouble," she says, adding that CBD isolate products that only contain that one cannabinoid tend to be less beneficial and are potentially dangerous to take in high doses.

Researchers are currently researching the 100-plus lesser-known cannabinoids and how they interact with the illusive endocannabinoid system (ECS), which plays a role in many of the body's processes from sleep to digestion to the stress response. Here are a few that have their interest right now, and have shown promise in animal trials:

Researching these cannabinoids is a slow process since it's difficult (not to mention expensive) to isolate them from the rest of the plant. But at some point in the future, any one of them could be as ubiquitous as CBD is today.

For now, remember to look for a full-spectrum product that contains a little bit of all of these compounds working together to form a powerful plant medicine.*

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