Cannabis has over 120 different phytocannabinoids, many of which are the key subjects in medical research.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most well-known compound in the cannabis plant, both for its psychotropic effects and for its medicinal uses. THC, however, is but one of over 120 different kinds of phytocannabinoids synthesized by the cannabis plant. The other phytocannabinoids have little or no psychotropic effect, but are seen as beneficial for medicinal use.
Of the other phytocannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) is the most commonly researched, likely because it is abundant in the cannabis plant, sometimes surpassing the concentration of THC. CBD is currently undergoing clinical trials as a treatment for several types of severe pediatric epilepsy. It has also demonstrated excellent anxiolytic and neuroprotective effects, and so could be a potential therapy for anxiety and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. CBD has also been used in studies for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic, or painkilling, properties. Human clinical studies show that CBD is well tolerated and safe, another reason the research and medical communities are eager to solve its medicinal pathways.
The precursor to THC, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), is found in very fresh cannabis plants, as are the other acid forms of the phytocannabinoids. THCA has medicinal properties in its own right, including as an analgesic and for killing cancer cells. It also has excellent neuroprotective properties and can give some protection to the brain from degenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.
Other non-psychoactive cannabinoids that are actively researched are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabidivarin (CBDV), and cannabinol (CBN). These compounds act on the body in a variety of mechanisms and with a range of therapeutic potential from anti-inflammatory agents to analgesics to antibiotics.
The large number of pharmacologically active compounds in the cannabis plant has led to the theory of the “entourage effect”, in which the many cannabinoids and other types of molecules, mainly terpenes, work together to produce the desired therapeutic benefits. While the mainstream approach to turning cannabis into viable medications will likely involve isolating and purifying particular components of the cannabis plant, the entourage effect suggests that the use of the whole plant may be even more beneficial.