Why Cannabinoids Are So Fascinating + 3 That Researchers Are Looking Into
Over the last few years, the cannabis market has emerge from hushed obscurity and started to find a place in Western medicine.
June Chin, D.O., is one doctor helping patients use cannabis in a measured and strategic way. "It's come a long way," Chin tells mbg of the market for non-psychoactive cannabis products, like full-spectrum hemp extract. "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.* "It's a potent anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is a common thread of many diseases," she explains.
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:
- CBGA (cannabigerolic acid) and CBG (cannabigerol): Chin says CBGA is known as "the mother of all cannabinoids." It's a precursor cannabinoid from which all other cannabinoids form over time. First, it breaks down into THCA, CBDA, and CBCA, and these eventually become THC, CBD, etc., over a plant's lifetime. In some strains, CBGA breaks down into a fourth compound—CBG. Like CBD, CBG is thought to have anti-anxiety effects, and researchers are increasingly interested in its potential to help treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's disease1 and ocular diseases such as glaucoma2.
- CBDA (cannabidiolic acid): The precursor to CBD, CBDA is an acid that is being studied for its ability to help manage nausea and vomiting3.
- CBC (cannabichromene): CBC is a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid that shows promise in helping to treat acne4 and manage pain5.
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.*
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.