What’s the difference: Phytocannabinoids and Endocannabinoids
The Cannabis sativa plant is known to produce over 400 different compounds, and around 60 are termed cannabinoids. These cannabinoids are known to interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) which is known to regulate bodily functions and maintain homeostasis in the body.
Among these well-known cannabinoids are the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and Cannabidiol (CBD) which is not psychoactive and does not cause a high feeling. There are three types of cannabinoids: synthetic cannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and endocannabinoids. Synthetic cannabinoids are manmade chemicals that are used as an alternative to marijuana. In this article, we will focus on the differences, biological effects, and a wide range of possible health benefits of phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids.
What are Phytocannabinoids?
Phytocannabinoids are natural plant-based compounds that occur in the cannabis plant. They are known to act on the CB1 and CB2 receptors found in the endocannabinoid system and help create homeostasis in the body and promote balance in one’s ECS.
So far, over 100 phytocannabinoids have been identified, and most are unique to Cannabis but other cannabinoids can also be found in very small amounts in plants including echinacea or coneflower, cacao, black pepper, black truffles, Chinese rhododendron, and kava.
The two most common and well-known exogenous cannabinoids are THC and CBD. Although both these compounds are phytocannabinoids, they have distinct properties that separate them from one another. THC is associated with psychoactive effects, while CBD is more known to be a non-psychoactive compound, and provides health benefits including:
- Regulation of pain perception
- Treatment of neurological disorders and psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer's disease
- Providing anticonvulsant effects
- Providing neuroprotective effects
What are Endocannabinoids?
Endocannabinoids, although they are similar to cannabinoids, are naturally-occurring endogenous lipids (fatty acids) found in humans and animals that also interact with the cannabinoids receptors. All mammals naturally produce these cannabinoids and focus on creating therapeutic functions throughout the body: in the brain, organs, tissues, and immune cells. Two of the known endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
Anandamide or the “bliss molecule” is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain. It binds to the receptors in the brain and body. Anandamide is also known to be one of the chemicals found in chocolate and is responsible for the “good” feeling we get after indulging in chocolate. 2-AG, on the other hand, is the other endogenous cannabinoid that produces its pharmacological effects on the CB receptors in the body. It plays a role in the regulation of the circulatory system and provides therapeutic effects on blood vessels and the heart.
How are phytocannabinoids different from endocannabinoids?
While phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids differ in their structure, our body’s endocannabinoid system responds in the same way to both of these cannabinoids. The big difference between the two is phytocannabinoids are found in plants, while endocannabinoids are located in mammals. The term “Phyto” signifies that the cannabinoids are plant-derived, while “endo” signifies the cannabinoid’s endogenous nature.
What are the Endocannabinoid receptors?
The endocannabinoid system or ECS is a complex cell-signalling system that regulates functions in the body like mood, sleep, memory, and pain, among others. The ECS have receptors throughout the body that endocannabinoids bind with to order that the ECS needs to take action. The two main endocannabinoid receptors are the CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the nervous system, and CB2 receptors which are found in your peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids bind to either of the two receptors and the effects that result depends on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
One of the main differences between phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids is that exogenous cannabinoids like THC bind more tightly to the CB receptors as THC activates the CB1 receptors in the brain and creates the feeling of being high. And because THC binds more tightly to CB1 receptors, the pharmacological effects are more long-lasting. So whereas the body releases enzymes to destroy endocannabinoids once they’ve done their job in regaining balance in the body, the ECS does not respond the same way to phytocannabinoids like THC.
Are there any health benefits to cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids have been linked to a lot of health benefits including:
- Chronic pain relief
- Improves lung capacity
- Weight loss
- Regulate and prevent diabetes
- Fight cancer
- Helps treat depression
- Regulate seizures
- Treatment for glaucoma
- Relief from anxiety
- Relief from arthritis
- Relief from multiple sclerosis
- Treats inflammatory bowel diseases
As cannabis is becoming a well-known alternative remedy for a lot of health issues, we should be able to fully understand how exactly these different types of cannabinoids work within our bodies, their effects, and potential health benefits. We should also know how the ECS functions as it okays a big role in keeping our internal processes stable. Although there have been studies conducted on the ECS, endocannabinoids, and phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD, more research is needed to know how they exactly work in our bodies as this could eventually hold the key to treating several health conditions.