More research is being done on cannabis now than at any point in recorded history. Scientists are working hard to improve our understanding of what cannabinoids do and how they work in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). There also seem to be a few other plants that contain compounds which can interact in the ECS. In this post, we’ll look at six plants with cannabinoid-like compounds.
A fair amount of research has been done on plant-based medicine, and we’ve established that there are substances which provide cannabis-like relief in chocolate, black pepper and more. Chemically, these compounds are not cannabinoids, but their similarity to the phytocannabinoids in cannabis and endocannabinoids made naturally by the body means they can still have an influence.
The endocannabinoid system is an impressive network of cell receptors and neurotransmitters that essentially helps to keep the body in mental and physical balance. The ECS promotes homeostasis, but also has a therapeutic impact on sleep patterns, mood, immune function, appetite, reproductive cycles and pain, to name a few.
Phytocannabinoid research has soared of late, with the US removing some restrictions which make it difficult for studies to be conducted. Now, scientists have managed to engineer yeasts that can create the enzyme which is needed to make THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid). THCA is a pre-activated version of THC that doesn’t produce any psychoactive effect in its acidic state. Now, let’s go over these six plants.
1) Black truffles
Animals make endocannabinoids while plants make phytocannabinoids (we usually just call them cannabinoids). The effects of these compounds are alike, although not exactly the same.
An Italian study incredibly found out that the endocannabinoid anandamide is produced by black truffles. This essential compound interacts just as if were a THC molecule (maybe that’s why they are so popular worldwide!), by binding with the CB1 receptor. Anandamide is created by animals and humans.
However, black truffles do not have any cannabinoid receptors, so it’s a bit of a mystery as to why they have evolved to create anandamide. Some believe that these mushrooms make the endocannabinoid to lure in other animals who can then disperse spores for reproductive purposes.
2) Japanese and New Zealand liverwort
Research into cannabinoid-like chemicals in liverwort first started almost 20 years. Then, scientists identified compounds in both Japanese and New Zealand liverwort that had similar effects to THC. In Japanese liverwort there is perottetinene acid, and in New Zealand liverwort there is perrottetinene.
The chemical structure of perrottetinene is like that of THC, and studies suggest that the compound is indeed a cannabimimetic. Therefore, perrotetinene can interact with the ECS as if it were a real cannabinoid. Like THC, this liverwort substance connects with the CB1 receptor. More studies are being carried out as we speak, but unfortunately nothing has been published so far.
Interest in the kava plant has risen thanks to the plant’s potential relaxing and anxiolytic properties. Pacific island cultures have made use of the kava root for hundreds of years and are able to concoct a therapeutic beverage from it. This kava drink can induce euphoria, but also provides substantial pain relief and sedation for the user.
The group of compounds responsible for kava’s effect on the ECS are the kavalactones. Yangonin appears to be the most important kavalactone as it can latch on to the CB1 receptor, making it a replacement compound for THC and the endocannabinoid anandamide. The CB1 receptor is the gateway to the brain and the central nervous system. Experts aren’t sure but think the CB1-yangonin interaction could be the answer to why kava is such an effective anxiety alleviator.
Most of the plant compounds featured in this post are similar to psychoactive THC. However, the most notable chemicals in Maca exihibit effects more relatable to non-psychoactive CBD. In contrast to THC, CBD doesn’t lock onto a cannabinoid receptor – instead it works more subtly. For example, CBD blocks FAAH, a problematic enzyme that breaks down endocannabinoids like anandamide and 2-AG.
We can tell from the word itself that anandamide is a ‘human THC’ – ‘anand’ is Sanskrit for ‘bliss’. Stopping endocannabinoid breakdown helps to create a balanced ECS, which can regulate your sleep, appetite, mood and more.
Maca contains plenty of N-benzylamines which inhibit the FAAH enzyme. Stifling FAAH promotes a good endocannabinoid tome, improving overall system function.
Beta-caryophyllene is a terpene that sometimes is present in cannabis but is always found in rosemary and black pepper. This compound could almost be mistaken for a cannabinoid, but it distinguishes itself by having a peppery aroma – all terpenes are aroma molecules and are the set of compounds responsible for the smell of cannabis.
The therapeutic possibilities of BCP are quite encouraging. The compound may have a useful effect on the immune system as it links with the CB2 receptor. Studies have also revealed that BCP exhibits anti-depressant and anti-anxiety properties. BCP is certainly a great compound to have in your cannabis strain if you’re self-medicating a mental health disorder – its combination with CBD and, to a lesser extent, THC helps to amplify the medicinal value of all three molecules.
6) Helichrysum umbraculigerum
Despite finding several cannabimimetic compounds in various plants, researchers haven’t yet come across molecules that can be chemically defined as cannabinoids. Although Helichrysum umbraculigerum, a plant native to South Africa, is causing a bit of a stir.
Researchers have discovered CBG and a compound similar to cannabigerol acid in this peculiar plant. CBG is the most abundant chemical in cannabis during the early stages of growth – it eventually breaks down into more familiar cannabinoids such as CBD and THC.
Cannabis-savvy medical experts are keen on exploring the effects of CBG, which could be a potent anti-depressant and antibiotic. So far, the Helichrysum umbraculigerum is the first plant not in the cannabis family to contain CBG. Cultures across southern Africa have dabbled with the flower for years. That they smoked it is probably a tell-tale sign that there’s more to Helichrysum umbraculigerum than meets the eye.