What Is In the Cannabis Plant?




In order to understand the medicinal value of the cannabis plant, you first need to learn about the many compounds found within it. The cannabis plant is dioecious (meaning it has male and female plants) and is made up of more than five hundred different chemical compounds.  When taking cannabis as medicine, you are by definition taking a mixture of many natural compounds that work together in balance with one another.  In contrast, pharmaceutical medications routinely contain only one active compound.


The Latin name of the plant is Cannabis sativa, in the family called Cannabaceae.  Other plants in this family are Humulus (hops) and Celtis (hackberries).  These plants share an evolutionary origin but are quite different from one another.  The cannabis plant Fontaine’s biologically active computes called phytocannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. These chemicals interact with the brain and body chemistry, causing certain effects.  Hundreds of different cannabis varieties are grown all over the world, each containing vary9ing amounts of the more than five hundred different compounds.  Some varieties may have more or less of certain cannabinoids or terpenoids; it is these differences that cause the various medicinal effects.  Contrary to popular lore, plants not have “strains”.  We call the different varieties or types of cannabis “chemovars,” which is short for chemical varieties. 


What Are Phytocannabinoids?


The term “cannabinoids” is very general and refers to a group of chemical compounds that are typically made up of 21 carbon atoms in a three-ring structure.  The prefix “phyto” added to the word refers to the cannabinoids that are found exclusively in the cannabis plant.  The two predominant and most studied phytocannabinoids are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).  Approximately 140 phytocannabinoids have now bee identified, and likely more will be discovered; however, only a few have been researched significantly. 


Other phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, often referred to as “minor” or “secondary” cannabinoids, include cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabicyclol (CBL), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (CBDV).  The medicinal effects of the most commonly used phytocannabinoids will be discussed in a future submission in more detail. 


Suffice it to say, that as the era of modern science begins to give cannabis the attention it deserves, we are going to shed light on just how the different compounds within this plant work together to improve health in complex ways. 



Dr. Allison Kendrick

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