Zera Hemp Labs 101: Cannabinoids and Terpenes

Hemp is an aromatic medicinal flower that has been utilized in medicine and textile fiber since the dawn of time. Hemp and marijuana are varieties of Cannabis plants that contain compounds known as cannabinoids. There are over 113 cannabinoids, each with potentially beneficial effects.

When it comes to the chemical structure of hemp, you can’t discuss cannabinoids without a special shout-out to terpenes. In fact, there is a theory that they work together for an altogether more powerful therapeutic effect. So, what are terpenes?

Terpenes are oil compounds secreted by the same glands that produce cannabinoids. With its production of distinctive scents and flavors like citrus, mint, berry, and many more, terpenes play a role in differentiating various strains.

We are going to guide you through understanding some of the different cannabinoids and terpenes in a hemp plant and their varying profiles and therapeutic benefits.

CANNABINOIDS

Cannabinoids are a group of chemical substances found in the hemp plant. 

The two most commonly known cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These compounds dominate the alternative medicine market, even as far as being mixed into many foods, oils, lotions, and much more— all for the benefit of human wellness. CBD and THC contain pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and mood improvement properties. 

A study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine showed that both CBD and THC significantly improve chronic ailments, such as neuropathy and chronic pain, which is the most common cause of disability in the United States. 

THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM

Cannabinoids play an essential role in regulating the endocannabinoid system, which is a part of the nervous system. The endocannabinoid system modulates pain, inflammation, memory, sleep, mood, appetite— generally, overall wellness. 

Cannabinoid receptors, namely CB1 and CB2, are found in different parts of the body, maintaining synergy and homeostasis. 

CB1 receptors are dominantly found in the brain and spinal cord. While CB2 receptors are located throughout the body, managing the immune system. 

Cannabinoids interact with the cannabinoid receptors, adjusting imbalanced functions and returning the body to its ideal state when consumed in moderation. All animals, including humans, have an endocannabinoid system. 

Each cannabinoid has unique properties that interact with these receptors, contributing to a whole arsenal of reactive and potentially therapeutic effects. 

For example, THC (predominantly found in marijuana) interacts with receptors in the brain and nervous system. THC’s effect on CB1 receptors in the brain is the reason for its psychoactive properties. CBD (found in hemp and marijuana) interacts with receptors in the immune system, which is the reason for its sedative and calming effect on the body.

Though CBD and THC are the leading medicinal compounds in the market and in cannabis and hemp discussions, other cannabinoids have just as much of a potential beneficial impact but with less recognition. We at Zera aim to change that and shine a light on the many benefits cannabinoids provide.

Below are descriptions of some of the more common cannabinoids:

TETRAHYDROCANNABINOL (THC)

THC is the most well-known (and most potent) of the psychoactive cannabinoids. Other psychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabinol (CBN) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), do not elicit the same degree of impairment. Instead, they induce a very minimal intoxicating effect.

THC binds with CB1 receptors in the brain, resulting in feelings of euphoria and relaxation. On the other side of the spectrum, it may evoke anxiety and paranoia in users due to its cognitive impairment. Since the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp products with a THC concentration of 0.3% and above have been banned to prevent psychoactive effects.

THC remains one of the most prevalent cannabinoids in many products and strains. THC is reported to help with pain relief, sleep, mood, appetite, and digestion. 

A study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shows that THC could be an effective treatment for chronic pain, Parkinson’s Disease, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and multiple movement disorders.

CANNABIDIOL (CBD)

CBD is a cannabinoid that currently dominates the alternative medicine market. CBD products are highly popular as the compound is said to be beneficial for a significant number of medicinal purposes. 

CBD has the potential to reduce stress, improve chronic pain, and promote all-around wellness. The cannabinoid is also thought to be an effective treatment for epilepsy and seizures.

Studies show that CBD has analgesic, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. Many CBD tinctures are mixed with essential oils, which may have similar properties for a more powerful effect.

CBD binds to CB2 receptors, which are located throughout the body targeting the immune system. Unlike THC, CBD does not evoke a high, making it a suitable option for users who do not wish to experience cognitive impairment. Instead, it induces a soothing and relaxing effect.

CBD is one of the first cannabinoids to have been discovered. Many people throughout history have sought the help of CBD to relieve pain, menstrual discomfort, insomnia, and mental illnesses. Though it may not have been the most accessible during those times, CBD can now be found in many products such as oils, creams, snacks, and beverages. 

CBD comes with various side effects, like dry mouth, nausea, fatigue, drowsiness, and bowel problems. However, these adverse reactions become less prevalent with increased usage.

CANNABIGEROL (CBG)

CBG is often referred to as the mother of cannabinoids. CBGa (the acidic form of CBG) is the precursor that results in THC, CBD, CBG, and CBC formation. In many ways, CBG is highly similar to CBD with a couple of extra perks, making the compound a formidable new trend in the market.

CBG binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, but like CBD, it does not produce a high. Traces of harvested CBG in Cannabis plants are minimal (only 1% compared to CBD’s 20%), however, CBG packs a punch and climbs the ladder as the next up-and-comer for alleviating various medical ailments.

CBG is reported to help treat several diseases, such as Huntington’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, bladder dysfunctions, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer. 

A 2020 study on rats with colorectal cancer showed that CBG may inhibit the growth of cancer cells and tumors, showing its potential as an anti-cancer agent. Furthermore, CBG shows promise in treating glaucoma, a medical concern that both THC and CBD are inadequate at managing.

CANNABINOL (CBN)

CBN was the very first cannabinoid to be discovered, which eventually led to the later discovery of CBD. CBN’s activation is a product of oxidation, meaning the cannabinoid develops through aging THCa (the acidic form of THC). As THC levels increase over time, so do CBNa levels. 

High amounts of CBN are found in aged strains, while newly harvested crops contain minimal amounts of the cannabinoid. To isolate CBN, manufacturers must expose THC to heat and light, which breaks THC down, leaving behind CBN. Due to its originating from THC, CBN may cause minimal impairment. 

The cannabinoid is reported to have various health benefits, with studies showing its potential as an antibacterial agent, neuroprotectant, and appetite stimulant. 

A study in the National Library of Medicine demonstrated that CBN was capable of delaying the progression of ALS, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that inhibit muscle control. Additionally, aged CBN is praised as a powerful sedative in high concentrations.

CANNABICHROMENE (CBC)

CBC is a cannabinoid that, like CBD, acts as a buffer for THC. Though studies are lacking on this cannabinoid, it develops from the same origins as CBD and THC and has garnered quite a bit of interest for its therapeutic potential. 

This cannabinoid is observed to improve the key functions of brain health and development. Aside from promoting neurogenesis, CBC could be a powerful tool for pain management, particularly for post-operative pain and inflammation.

CBC binds poorly with CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, it has an affinity for other receptors found in the body. CBC stimulates transient receptors, such as TRPA1 and TRPV1, which target pain management and depression. 

Because CBC does not interact with endocannabinoid receptors, it is best taken with other cannabinoids that bind with the receptors for an altogether more powerful effect.

CANNABIDIVARIN (CBDV)

There is currently limited research on how CBDV works and affects the body. However, existing studies have shown that the cannabinoid operates on a different frequency than CBD and THC. Like CVC, CBDV is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that does not interact with endocannabinoid receptors and modulates the TRPV1 receptor. 

CBDV interacts with this receptor, which reduces and controls convulsant activity. Essentially, the cannabinoid has potential to be an excellent treatment for seizures, epilepsy, and various hyperactive movement disorders. 

Furthermore, CBDV is a highly effective anti-nausea agent. The cannabinoid is reported to downregulate the CB1 receptor, which may cause symptoms of nausea and vomiting when stimulated.

Remarkably, a 2018 animal study also showed that CBDV is an effective treatment for Rett’s Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects women, causing severe impairments such as their ability to walk, talk, eat, and even breathe. CBDV was shown to have the potential to reverse the deterioration of the disorder.

TETRAHYDROCANNABIVARIN (THCV)

THCV offers a unique array of benefits. Because it contains a similar molecular structure as THC, THCV may induce slight psychoactive effects, but has an altogether different set of therapeutic benefits.

Unlike THC, which is a renowned appetite stimulant, THCV is an appetite suppressant. THCV may help consumers who are focused on weight loss. However, it is highly discouraged for people battling anorexia or treating appetite loss; potentially no gain in this light. Furthermore, the cannabinoid effectively regulates blood sugar and insulin levels, making it a potentially excellent tool for managing diabetes.

Though research is lacking, it is said that THCV stimulates bone growth and heals brain lesions associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. The cannabinoid can potentially treat bone-related conditions, such as osteoporosis and arthritis. 

TERPENES

If you have ever smelled cannabis and been able to identify different strains, that’s an example of terpenoids working their magic. Each plant has a unique terpene profile which contributes to its taste, scent, and physical effect.

Many factors contribute to the different terpenes developed in hemp strains, specifically the climate in which it was grown, weather, soil type, fertilizers— even the time of day the harvest is collected. 

There are 300 kinds of terpenes found in the plant, and each respective type possesses its own composition and qualities. Essentially, every plant has its respective terpene content.

Though terpenes are a feast on the senses, the compounds also produce therapeutic elements that may aid in treating various health concerns. When terpenes are inhaled or ingested along with cannabinoids, they create a synergistic reaction, commonly known as the entourage effect. 

The theory of the entourage effect is when cannabinoids or terpenes work together to induce a more powerful medicinal effect. Terpenes can induce a different effect than phytocannabinoids depending on their composition. This is why two similar Cannabis strains can lead to different effects after consumption. 

Below are some of the most common kinds of terpenes:

MYRCENE

Myrcene is the most prevalent terpene in the hemp plant, amounting to as much as 65% in many strains’ total terpene profiles. This terpene takes on an earthy, sweet, and musky aroma that resembles the scent of cloves and grapes. Think of sweetness with an earthy and spicy kick.

Myrcene is known for its anti-inflammatory effects and alleviation of chronic pain, making it a helpful supplement during the treatment of cancer or for post-operative pain. 

An animal study showed that myrcene is a powerful muscle relaxant and may promote continuous sleep cycles.

LINALOOL

Linalool is the terpene responsible for marijuana’s signature scent— an aromatic combination of spicy and floral. This terpene can also be found in lavender, mint, and cinnamon, and just like these herbs, linalool induces a soothing and relaxing sensation.

Due to its sedative and anti-inflammatory properties, linalool may help treat insomnia, arthritis, and seizures. 

An animal study by the Journal of Pharmacology also showed that the terpene effectively reduces and controls mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. In the same study, rats had been placed in fear-inducing environments, and researchers found that linalool helped them continue to strive for an escape in a seemingly hopeless situation.

LIMONENE

Limonene is the second most common terpene next to myrcene, but it is not present in all strains. As the name suggests, limonene emits a citrusy scent, resembling the fragrance of lemons. Large amounts of this terpene can be found in many citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, oranges, etc.

Current studies show that limonene has medicinal properties for reducing stress levels and elevating mood. The terpene also contains potent antibacterial and antifungal properties. Promisingly, several studies show that limonene has the potential to reduce the size of tumors. 

One animal study demonstrated that limonene may have hindered the growth of skin tumors, and another study showed it inhibiting the growth of mammary tumors. In the latter study, patients took daily limonene supplements for six weeks, which stopped the tumors from spreading to other areas of the body.

CARYOPHYLLENE

Beta-caryophyllene is a terpene commonly found in spices, such as black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, cloves— evidently, this is a profile with a spicy kick. Caryophyllene emits a hot and earthy scent, resembling the fragrance of cracked peppers. Its profile makes it a suitable ingredient for topicals aimed at soothing and reducing inflammation.

Caryophyllene is the only terpene that binds with endocannabinoid receptors, specifically the CB2 receptor. This ability gives it an edge in alleviating pain and inflammation and promoting the immune system. The terpene is also thought to be highly effective in potentially treating substance abuse addictions. 

A study on mice showed that caryophyllene may have hindered their voluntary intake of alcoholic substances. The terpene is regarded as a potential treatment for alcohol addiction and withdrawal. 

Various studies on caryophyllene are promising, with one even indicating that the terpene can increase lifespan longevity by reducing gene stress.

PINENE

As influenced by the name, pinene is a terpene with the hearty aroma of pine trees, which is where this element is commonly found. Other plants rich in pinene include basil, rosemary, parsley, and various herbs. Like its strong earthy fragrance originating in nature, the terpene packs a punch as a natural healer for respiratory ailments.

A study in the National Library of Medicine showed that pinene is a bronchodilator, meaning it promotes the opening of airways. 

β-pinene may be especially useful for users struggling with chronic allergies, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and several respiratory issues that obstruct proper airflow. Additionally, the terpene contains anti-inflammatory properties, which may reduce chronic pain. 

Pinene is regarded as a buffer for THC, aiding in the treatment of short-term memory loss associated with increased usage of the psychoactive cannabinoid.

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