A Guide to the All-Natural Compounds of the Cannabis Plant
Cannabis. It's a ubiquitous plant, famed for many things: the infamous 'highs' produced by marijuana, CBD (THC’s balancing counterpart) and much more. There's no doubt that even the word cannabis is enough to detonate an explosion of connotations in your head, both positive and negative. But are you aware of all the science behind this unique plant? We aim to enlighten you on the cannabis plant, its history and its many natural compounds. To help you gain a clearer perspective and a greater insight into this exciting species that is increasingly grabbing the attention of the modern world and many young entrepreneurs alike.
Cannabis: A history
Where it all begins is with the Cannabaceae family. This is a small family of flowering plants, which includes around 170 species that are grouped in about 11 genera. Cannabis can be found all over the world and has been cultivated throughout history, with the first recorded use in writing dating back to at least the third millennium BC, and some archaeological evidence tracing its origins back even further. It hails from the Indian and Central Asian subcontinent, and as a species, it consists of over 200 different plants which look different, but all have common characteristics. The three primary species in the cannabis family are Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis ruderalis, and all of these plant species contain compounds called cannabinoids.
Indica strains are short plants with broad, dark green leaves and a higher cannabidiol content than that of sativa strains, which tend to have a higher THC content. Sativa strains are usually taller and have thin leaves of a pale green colour, and due to their higher THC content, are typically the preferred choice among recreational users.
Throughout this guide, we will be focusing specifically on the Cannabis sativa variety, so it may be best to put the other two species out of mind, for now, to avoid confusion.
Making up the Cannabis sativa plant species are two varieties and over 100 naturally-occurring cannabinoids. These two varieties, marijuana and hemp, are commonly confused, so allow us to outline the differences:
Marijuana is mainly grown for recreational use. Growth, distribution, purchase and possession of marijuana is largely illegal across the world (with the exception of some countries and US states) as it is classed as a drug. Marijuana contains an abundance of the psychotropic cannabinoid, THC (15% on average) which produces inebriating effects known colloquially as, "getting high."
That said, in a growing number of countries, recreational use of marijuana is decriminalised, such as in some American states and famously in the Netherlands.
Hemp, or industrial hemp, has a longstanding history of being used for various purposes. Also, unlike its psychoactive cousin known as marijuana, its growth and sale are legal in most countries around the world so long as its THC content is below 0.2% in the EU and UK and 0.3% in the US. Hemp was one of the first plants to be converted into usable fibre around 50,000 years ago and has historically featured in various commercial items such as paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel and food. And that's not all: the seeds of the hemp plant have long been used to create hemp seed oil, which is frequently included in skincare products and also serves as a cooking oil similar to sunflower seed or olive oil. Unsurprisingly, given all the confusion surrounding cannabis, hemp seed oil and CBD oil are often confused for each other. However, despite them both being derived from the hemp plant, hemp seed oil is solely extracted from the plant's seeds and therefore contains virtually no active CBD.
Though marijuana and hemp are both derivatives of cannabis, they are distinctly different in their own phytochemical compositions. Indeed, hemp naturally has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of CBD.
So now we've got the differences between the two varieties of Cannabis sativa out of the way, it's time to delve deeper into the cannabinoids present within this plant species. A "cannabinoid" refers to the chemical compounds that are found in cannabis. We would love to run you through all 100+ cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa and address each of their unique components, but we're pretty sure you wouldn't want that. So instead, we'll introduce you to some of the key players like THC, CBG, CBN and CBC, after kicking things off with one of the most commonly occurring cannabinoids, namely CBD.
Starting with our favourite here at MANTLE, CBD is amongst the more famous and historical of the cannabinoids that are known to be present in Cannabis sativa. It was only as recently as 1963 when Raphael Mechoulam first isolated CBD, only a year before he discovered and isolated THC. Ever since, these have been the two most widely-investigated cannabinoids in the Cannabis sativa plant, due to their high prevalence and multifaceted uses.
Unlike THC however, CBD is a non-intoxicating constituent of the plant and therefore does not produce mind-altering effects.
Nowadays, CBD is ubiquitous, as many companies around the world have started to create or integrate CBD into their product ranges. It is used to produce a whole array of products, including tinctures, vape oils, e-liquids, skincare products and consumables like drinks and edibles. But CBD is by no means new; it is even thought that Queen Victoria of England would drink CBD-infused tea during her reign throughout the 19th century.
The cannabinoid is in such high demand that different types of CBD extracts are being tailored to meet customers' varying needs. Such extracts include full-spectrum, broad-spectrum (also known as CBD distillate) and CBD isolate. Full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD are essentially the same, except the latter has been through extra filtering to eliminate all traces of THC. CBD isolate has been through even more filtering until CBD is all that remains, without any of its cannabinoid relatives, terpenes or any other compounds for that matter.
The safety of CBD has been confirmed by the World Health Organisation and there have been few known adverse effects on users. However, the minor reported side-effects include nausea, diarrhoea, changes in appetite and fluctuations in weight (usually only occurs when consumed in very high doses.)
The Food and Drug Administration is a US regulatory body in charge of protecting public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, food supply, cosmetics and any product that emits radiation.
All CBD products are not approved by the FDA. This means that some CBD outlets get away with being dishonest about their products and what is in them, as regulations can be obscure. For this reason, it is always best to check the Certificate of Analysis of a given CBD product. A reputable CBD outlet should not hesitate to provide you with this crucial document which confirms that CBD-based products have been tested by a third-party laboratory. This document should also list the terpene and cannabinoid profile of a CBD product.
Up next is THC, or in scientific terms "delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol". This is the infamous cannabinoid known for featuring in marijuana in great quantities, thereby causing an intoxicating, euphoric effect upon the user. Other such effects may include but are not limited to hypoactivity, hypothermia as well as spatial and verbal short-term memory impairment.
Whilst the average "joint" contains 5-15% of THC, CBD products may only contain a maximum of 0.3% in the US or 0.2% in the UK and EU. THC is what makes marijuana a class B drug in the UK and a highly divisive, controlled substance in the US.
On one side of the heated debate surrounding THC, many argue that this cannabinoid is known for having various health benefits; such that the FDA has approved 2 THC-based drugs for prescription use in the US: Marinol and Syndros. As mentioned, the use of THC for medicinal purposes is increasingly being adopted in countries around the world, but there is still a long way to go before governments are convinced about decriminalising its recreational usage.
The opposing side of the argument says that this cannabinoid can be detrimental to the user, especially when used in excess - hence there are only trace amounts of THC in CBD products, and THC content remains steeped in regulation in many countries. Because of its potentially adverse effects (marijuana is the second most frequently found substance in victims of fatal car accidents), THC has garnered a negative reputation amongst law-makers around the globe, who are hesitant to legalise it. Of course, the debate is far more complex and multifaceted - but these are some key highlights.
Onto the cannabinoids that have had their thunder stolen by their more famous counterparts. CBG is like the parent molecule to other cannabinoids, as it is CBG from which they are synthesised. CBG, or CBGA, which is its acidic form, is the first cannabinoid acid to develop in the cannabis plant - hence its parental or precursory status.
By the time hemp has undergone harvesting and processing, there are only trace amounts of CBG left. This is because the heat or UV light used to dry industrial hemp after harvesting breaks down these acidic cannabinoids into their non-acidic counterparts, such as THC, CBD, and CBC. Consequently, CBG is sometimes referred to as a 'minor' cannabinoid. It has been largely overshadowed by THC and CBD, meaning there is much research yet to be completed about this cannabinoid and its effects.
CBG is thought to have a number of perks, and it is sometimes included in hand sanitisers.
Cannabinol, or CBN, is a mildly psychoactive component found in cannabis which, like the psychotropic THC, is derived from tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A). CBN is created when THC-A oxidises. CBN was actually the first compound to be found in cannabis and was originally thought to be the cannabinoid responsible for the plant's psychoactive effects until THC was discovered. It remains one of the major and most researched compounds within cannabis - alongside CBD and THC - and research indicates that CBN could have a number of wellness-enhancing benefits.
Strength in Numbers: what happens when the cannabinoids work together?
When the cannabinoids work together an effect is produced called the entourage effect. This refers to the way all the compounds of the cannabis plant enhance one another when working synergistically. They can produce stronger effects on your wellbeing together rather than individually.
What else can be found in Cannabis sativa's cannabinoids?
Cannabis contains over 400 chemical entities, of which more than 60 are cannabinoid compounds. Aside from all the cannabinoids, the plant also features vitamins, fatty acids, terpenes and flavonoids. These other compounds also contribute to the entourage effect by working in harmony with the plant's cannabinoids.
Terpenes are common constituents of flavourings and fragrances. Terpenes are responsible for giving cannabis its distinctive aroma, as well as many other plants. The FDA and other agencies have generally recognised terpenes as "safe".
Flavonoids are also found in cannabis, and they are renowned for their many benefits. They are one of the largest nutrient families known to scientists and include over 6,000 pre-identified family members. To date, around 20 flavonoids have been identified in cannabis, some of which include apigenin, quercetin, cannflavin A and cannflavin B (thought to be exclusive to cannabis), β-sitosterol, vitexin, isovitexin, kaempferol, luteolin and orientin.
Why you deserve the best CBD products out there
At MANTLE, we are cannabinoid fanatics. But as we mentioned earlier, the cannabinoid that we like the most is CBD. As recognition of CBD and its balancing benefits has snowballed, so too has the emergence of products out there that include CBD. Indeed, nowadays, the CBD market is brimming with a vast array of products, from tinctures to creams, vapes to gummies, capsules to drinks, sprays and many, many more. We could keep you reading all day about the endless possibilities and products in which CBD finds itself. But we have decided to narrow down just a few of the ways that CBD can be taken.
We are great lovers of the CBD tincture (CBD oil in drop form, that is), for a number of reasons.
- Its superior bioavailability: First and foremost, administering CBD oil sublingually has a very high bio-availability when compared to other methods of CBD consumption. Administered this way CBD may be absorbed quicker than with most other methods of consumption, which often have to pass down the digestive tract. As quickly as 30 minutes after taking the CBD oil sublingually, its balancing effect can be felt.
- Ease and flexibility: Taking CBD via a tincture is a piece of cake. No, but really, it can be done by eating a piece of cake, if you were to include a couple of drops of CBD oil to it. In other words, CBD tinctures are extremely versatile - we can add a couple of drops of them to our mocktails, coffees, smoothies or juices - even our morning porridge or lunchtime soup. In this way, CBD tinctures are highly flexible and easy; you don’t need to swallow a chunky pill or inhale a foreign vapour - simply add to drinks, food, or drop directly onto your tongue if you prefer to take it as it comes.
We are also fans of CBD skincare; so much so that we are launching our own range in November. Our CBD skincare launch will consist of a serum, multi-balm and overnight mask. CBD cosmetic products can come in the form of balms, body oils, lotions and salves. Here's why we love CBD topicals as much as we do:
- Ability to target: When a CBD topical is applied to the skin, it has the potential to not only calm angry skin and acne, but also soothe and calm with all that antioxidant-rich, skin-hydrating goodness.
- There's no such thing as too much: Unlike CBD tinctures, vapes and basically all other methods of CBD consumption, it is not possible to take too much CBD when it comes in the form of a topical. The Food Standards Agency recommends that you do not exceed 70mg of CBD per day when ingesting this cannabinoid. Whilst it is unlikely that anything will happen if you do, you run the risk of enduring some of the adverse effects discussed earlier. However, with a CBD topical, you can apply it as liberally as you wish.The hydrating potential of CBD on your skin makes it the ultimate in caring for your skin and overall well-being.
One last thing
Remember that it is always best to consult your doctor or healthcare provider if you are considering integrating CBD, or indeed any of the above cannabinoids, into your self-care routine. We also advise checking the relevant laws of your country before ordering a product containing any of these cannabinoids.
For those who are pregnant, nursing or family-planning: it is best to avoid CBD-based products or other derivatives of cannabis as it could disrupt fertilisation or the formation of a foetus.
We also strongly recommend seeking a Certificate of Analysis (COA) before making any purchases on cannabinoids (we’ll be happy to provide ours!), to be sure that your product has been tested by a certified third-party laboratory. This certificate also lists the full cannabinoid and terpene profile of a product. A reputable CBD outlet should be able to provide one without fuss.
Now that you are well-acquainted with the cannabis plant, its various cannabinoids and the way they manifest themselves in products (as well as when to avoid them), we hope you feel converted on the subject of this multifaceted plant and all it has to offer.
Have a plant-astic day!