For years it was thought that cannabis was the only plant capable of producing natural occuring cannabinoids. However, in the last few years research has been conducted that shows that cannabis is not the only plant that produces these compounds, and that they are actually quite abundant in other plants! It appears that other plants produce chemical compounds that directly and indirectly affect the Endocannabinoid system (ECS).
What is the Endocannabinoid system and how does it work?
The ECS is a biological system of receptor sites which allow compounds or ligands known as cannabinoids to bind with these receptor sites. Picture a key fitting a lock. This system regulates important functions of mammals. Every mammal on the planet has an ECS. If you have ever slept,eaten, forgot, or relaxed then you have used your ECS.
The receptors for cannabinoids are one of the most abundant receptors in the human brain and central nervous system. They are expressed in nearly every tissue and cell. The two main receptors are the CB1 and CB2 receptor. CB1 are concentrated mostly in the brain and on neurons throughout the body, while the CB2 is mostly found in the lymphatic system. Given the abundance of these receptors, it’s not hard to imagine that these receptors are important, even crucial for some biological processes. However, THC and other cannabis constituents are not the only plant compounds which can affect the ECS.
What are Cannabinoids Endocannibinoids Phytocannibinoids and Cannabimimetics?
Cannabinoids are lipid-based (fatty acid) molecules that all act to some degree on the cannabinoid receptors, which are a primary component of the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids produced by plants are known as phytocannabinoids, those produced by the body are known as endocannabinoids, and lab-synthesized compounds are simply known as synthetic cannabinoids. As well as cannabinoids, we also have an important class of non-classical cannabinoids known as cannabimimetics. They are called cannabimimetics as they literally mimic the biological activity of the classical cannabinoids, despite not sharing their molecular structure. Dozens of different compounds are now known to act either directly or indirectly on the ECS.
Here are a few plants beside cannabis that produce phytocannabinoids or cannabimimetics.
Coneflower – Echinacea
This plant is most famous as an alternative herbal remedy. Common uses include fighting colds, migraine relief, an anti anxiety, and an energy booster. Echinacea doesnt produce cannabinoids but it does produce a compound in the cannabimimetic category. Similar to THCA (Tetrahydracannabinol acid, the precursor to THC found in raw cannabis before it has been heated and undergone a process known as decarboxylation where a carbon atom is released from the molecule chain thus converting THCA into psychoactive THC) in cannabis, It contains a series of compounds known as N-alkyl amides (NAAs). This compound in echinacea is responsible for regulating the immune system, pain and inflammation. It does this by engaging with CB2 receptors in the lymphatic system.
Black Pepper – Piper nigrum
Some cannabis strains like Hash Plant have a peppery taste and aroma. The reason for this? They contain high levels of a particular terpenoid known as beta-caryophyllene (BCP). A terpene is a molecule related to aroma. These are found in large concentrations in a plants essential oils. Unsurprisingly, this distinct flavor is also found heavily in black pepper. Fairly recently it was discovered that BCP actually functions as a cannabimimetic. Like many of the other plant compounds listed in this article, BCP has a binding affinity with the CB2 receptor. Research has suggested that the anti-inflammatory compounds of this terpene make it therapeutically valuable for treating conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis. Other research has indicated that BCP can increase the efficacy of anticancer drugs.
A plant found in South Africa, and known to the natives, this daisy has been found to possess mood-stabilizing and anti-depressant effects due to a large amounts of a lesser known phytocannabinoid, cannabigerol (CBG).
At the International Cannabinoid Research Society, Italian researcher Giovanni Appendino unveiled his discovery that cannabinoid-like compounds are found in Helichrysum. Helichrysum is used in African ritual ceremonies as an aromatic incense and is believed to have psychotropic effects.
Liverwort – Radula marginata
Researchers believe this plant could be one of the only other plants, besides cannabis, that produces compounds capable of engaging the CB1 receptors, the receptors responsible for binding THC and thus the euphoric high. This plant contains large amounts of perrottetinenic acid, which is strikingly similar to THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis. Liverwort is not currently known to have any psychoactive effects, however. What it is known for is its ability to treat bronchitis, and historically it has been used to alleviate gallbladder, liver, and bladder problems.
Electric Daisy – Acmella oleracea
A flower native to the Amazon river basin, the electric daisy has been known to the indigenous population for centuries as an analgesic. It is successful at blocking neurons from firing at nerve endings, preventing the sensation of pain. The compounds found in the electric daisy are called N-Isobutylamides, and similarly to other cannabinoid-like compounds they regulate pain and inflammation. This natural remedy is being explored for its benefit in relation to dentistry for its use as a topical analgesic much like those in the Caine family of anaesthetic.
Cacao – Theobroma cacao
Another plant with compounds in the cannabimimetic family, the cacao plant has many therapeutic properties and it is known to be a powerful, and delicious superfood, rich in free radical fighting antioxidants. (It would be good to mention the US government holds a patent on CBD for its antioxidant properties) Cacao engages with the endocannabinoid system by deactivating the enzyme called FAAH, which typically breaks down the endocannabinoid known as anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid produced by the body, and found in breastmilk. Since anandamide is identified to be the body’s natural version of THC, (ananda is a sanskrit word that means “bliss”) eating unprocessed chocolate high in raw cacao increases the amounts of anandamide in the brain because the FAAH enzyme responsible for metabolizing it is less active.
The result is similar to the euphoria many people experience when smoking cannabis – a general mental state of being relaxed and happy – although the result is nowhere near as potent as with smoked canbabis. Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute of San Diego were able to back up the claims that chocolate does contain three compounds that act as healing cannabinoids