If I was to say the word “cannabinoid” to you, where would your mind go? Would you immediately wonder, “What? Is it just a fancy way to say weed?” or would you ask questions like, “As in the molecular components of Cannabis?” or “Are you referring to the specific endogenous cannabinoid ligands in our body?” If your first thoughts align with the latter, prepare for a nice refresher on cannabinoids. If your response was closer to the former, get ready for a crash course in how we characterize cannabinoids and how they can be used to treat various health conditions.
“Cannabinoid” is a term that pertains to the wide array of molecular compounds that modulate cannabinoid receptors, which are present throughout our bodies’ central and peripheral nervous systems. These receptors are part of a larger system called the endocannabinoid system, which is an integral regulatory system in our body. In addition to cannabinoid receptor types 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2, respectively), the endocannabinoid system is comprised of molecular transporters, endogenous cannabinoids, as well as enzymes that build and break down said cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids can come from different places and, depending on their origin, are characterized and placed into one of three categories: endogenous cannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids. Endogenous cannabinoids represent a class of cannabinoids that originate from the body, so these are compounds that we produce naturally. The term “phytocannabinoid” refers to cannabinoid compounds that are naturally produced by the Cannabis plant. In contrast, the class of synthetic cannabinoids consists of cannabinoid compounds that have been synthesized in a lab setting and, therefore, are not naturally-occurring, like its endogenous and phyto- cousins.