What Are Phytocannabinoids?

Put simply, phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are naturally occurring in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that act on the body’s cannabinoid receptors and often alter the neurotransmitter release of the brain. Phytocannabinoids are distinct from synthetic cannabinoids that are man-made and endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoids naturally occurring in the body.

Currently, researchers believe the cannabis plant contains around 545 compounds, and of this number, 113 compounds are thought to be phytocannabinoids. These compounds interact with each other and bind with the plant’s flavonoids and terpenes to create unique qualities to each strain of the plant.

Minor cannabinoids

The most prevalent, well known and most studied cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are CBD and THC. THC – or tetrahydrocannabinol – makes up around 12-20% of the cannabis plant’s dried content, although this number can be around 25-30% in some more potent strains.

While the CBD and THC contents of many strains are relatively similar, the minor cannabinoid make up of different strains can vary greatly from plant to plant. This minor cannabinoid make-up is largely dependent upon the plant’s environmental conditions and genetic background. Due to the fact that there’s generally a low concentration of these aptly named minor cannabinoids, which vary from plant to plant anyway, it has been hard for scientists to accurately test and investigate these elements.

As such, the mechanisms and potential benefits of minor cannabinoids have been generally overlooked by scientists and plant breeders in favour of cultivating strains with high THC and CBD potencies.

Some minor cannabinoids we know about

· CBG: supposedly helps with bone growth and insomnia and inhibits bacterial growth.

· CBGa: exhibits analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

· THCv: a psychoactive cannabinoid which has appetite suppressing properties and helps to stimulate bone growth.

· CBN: aids pain relief, appetite stimulation and insomnia.

· CBC: reduces pain and inflammation.

· CBDa: has antibacterial and anti-nausea properties.

· THCa: has anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea properties.

Cannabinoids and the entourage effect

Put very simply, the ‘entourage effect’ is the theory that cannabis may be more effective when it’s in its natural state than when specific cannabinoids are singled out and used alone. While the supposed effect is not entirely confirmed by scientific research or literature, the term was coined back in 1999 by scientist Raphael Mechoulam who theorised that when the various compounds of the plant are used together they elicit more therapeutic effect than when the compounds are used in isolation. The most studied and well-known example of the entourage effect in cannabis is the way in which CBD seems to mitigate the psychoactive effects of THC – cannabis products with a high CBD to THC ratio appear to have less detrimental psychoactive effects upon patients.

For more information take a look at our evidence base, a ground-breaking systematic review of the history of research in this area and a global first-of-its-kind searchable database for clinical referencing.

The rest of our comprehensive resources on medical cannabis are available on our website. We urge anyone considering the use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.

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