Cannabinoids and cannabinoid plants are the new stars of the research scene. These powerful chemicals are both found in nature and naturally present in the human body.
These little molecules are the culprits that get you “high," but they also help to break addictive behaviors, reduce chronic inflammation and sports-induced inflammation, and relax you before sleep.
It turns out that while the body regulates itself with naturally-occurring cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids), plant sources containing cannabinoids (called phytocannabinoids) can play a role in keeping the body well under life's unknown stressors.
There are several ways to support the body's endocannabinoid system by integrating herbal sources and plants with cannabinoids— just make sure you do your research, or you could end up with some toxic effects or crazy munchies.
In this article, we review what the latest research says about the endocannabinoid system, what plants with cannabinoids have to do with it, and what plants are popular in the pharmaceutical and home remedy market today.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found both in nature and in the human body. In plants, they're called phytocannabinoids, and when found naturally occurring in the human body, they're called endocannabinoids. Both have the same effects in the body and ingesting phytocannabinoids from cannabidiol plants can help regulate your cannabinoid system.
Research continues to reveal the beneficial and less beneficial properties of phytocannabinoids and their helpful and harmful reactions to the body's endocannabinoid system. We do know that a person's response to cannabinoids is highly individual- we don't yet understand why a particular cannabinoid might relax one person and cause another paranoia.
The cannabis plant is well-known for THC and CBD, two cannabinoids that produce psychoactive and calming effects, respectively. But cannabis isn't the only cannabinoid plant.
Cannabis is only one of many cannabidiol plants known for calming and psychoactive therapeutic use in the human body's endocannabinoid system. Research continues to reveal more about how integral the endocannabinoid system is in regulating homeostasis in the body naturally and what cannabinoid plants can have an effect.
Talk with your doctor before ingesting cannabinoids or large amounts of cannabinoid plants. While cannabinoids like CBD are well-tolerated by most people, those with certain psychiatric or liver conditions may be at higher risk.
What's the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a transmitter system that regulates and controls critical body functions, including memory, learning processes, emotional control, temperature control, pain control, appetite, and inflammatory, and immune responses.
Research of the ECS involves the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, which are located on the surface of cells throughout the body and control the activities of other neurotransmitters to regulate statuses related to hunger, alertness, and temperature.
Endocannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
The ECS system is activated by cannabinoids, which are bioavailable in cannabinoid plants and found naturally in the body's tissues and organs. Endocannabinoids are produced in and released from the body's tissues and organs in times of stress to bind to cannabinoid receptors and return the body to equilibrium.
Research into endocannabinoids is relatively recent. The first documented endocannabinoid, anandamide, also found in plants, was discovered in 1992, and other endocannabinoids have also been identified in the body, such as 2-AG.
Phytocannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
Besides the endogenous endocannabinoids, emerging research suggests that certain plants contain phytocannabinoids, which are the plant version of endocannabinoids. Their chemical structures closely resemble that of endocannabinoids, and they can interact directly with the body's endocannabinoid system or indirectly with the system's enzymes to produce similar results in the body as endocannabinoids.
The most well-known phytocannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), present inCannabis sativa, or cannabis, but many non-cannabis plants contain phytocannabinoids and interact with the endocannabinoid system to produce“high” effects like THC or calming effects similar to CBD. We call these cannabidiol plants.
For example, a flavenoid called kaempherol is found in cannabis as well as in fruits and vegetables, including blackberries and broccoli. The molecule acts as the plant's antioxidant and also works as an enzyme inhibitor in the human endocannabinoid system.
Kaempherol breaks down the ECS enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), inhibiting the enzyme from breaking down anandamide-like molecules, which bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and mimic the psychoactive effects of phytocannabinoids. So, presumably, eating foods high in kaempherol may have an effect on your mood.
What Is Cannabimimetics?
While cannabis is a unique herb and a significant producer of cannabinoids, there are many other cannabinoid plants and plants with molecules that interact with the human body's endocannabinoid system with similar effects.
As research progresses, humans learn more about how the human body works in synthesis with plants and how to appreciate the medicinal features offered by many plants--- called cannabimimetics.
Cannabinimetics is the study of phytocannabinoids or cannabinoids in plants that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body. This emerging field of research shows how natural sources or pharmaceuticals can be used therapeutically in interaction with the enzymes in the endocannabinoid system.
While the research still has a long way to go, the most important thing to understand about the endocannabinoid system is that the enzymes that conduct it are the keys to keeping the entire system in balance.
Cannabimimetic (cannabis-mimicking) plants include:
- Some flowering plant species (Rhododendron)
- Some liverwort (small plant that looks like moss) species
- Some fungi (containing phytocannabinoids colloquially called “mycocannabinoids”)
Be aware that many cannabimimetic sources have a low effect on CB1 receptors and won't get you high like cannabis. Many also produce toxic molecules along with phytocannabinoids to deter predators and can make humans sick if ingested.
10 Cannabidiol-Mimicking and Cannabidiol Plants
Research suggests that there are many cannabidiol plants or plants that contain cannabinoid-like compounds that act on the ECS and result in therapeutic effects similar to cannabis.
While most plants with cannabinoids have been found to mimic the calming effect of CBD as recognized in cannabis, the majority of the following plants do not contain psychotropic effects typically recognized in THC found in cannabis.
In order to appreciate the extent of health benefits that cannabinoid-mimicking and cannabidiol plants offer, it's important to choose sources that are as fresh and unprocessed as possible.
For example, choose raw cacao seeds or nibs instead of processed cacao or chocolates containing milk and other enhancements. Sources containing additions, like milk in cacao to make milk chocolate, block the body's ability to absorb the healing properties of the source.
Not all sunflowers are cannabidiol plants, but some South African sunflowers in the helichrysum family contain CBG, orCannabigerol, a phytocannabinoid also found in cannabis and used in supplements for therapeutic effects related to depression and mood.
Unfortunately, research on the psychotropic effects of helichrysum-derived CBG is limited due to South African native plant laws that make studying and sourcing this plant tricky outside of the country. However, according to Giovanni Appendino, who discovered non-cannabis CBG, the chemical life of phytocannabinoids combined with their presence in helichrysums and the plant's African ceremonial use adds up to suggest the plant could have psychotropic effects like cannabis.
Echinacea purpura, echinacea or cornflower, is traditionally and popularly used as an herbal medicine for its immune-boosting effects. The plant contains cannabimimetic compounds known as N-alkylamides or NNAs, which activate the CB2 receptor in a way similar to CBD, which can bring a sense of calm.
Cannabimimetics (and not cannabinoids) are what make Echinacea good for working on the endocannabinoid system to relieve symptoms associated with stress, like pain (migraines), fatigue, and inflammation.
The lack of cannabinoids in Echinacea means this plant doesn't get you “high" like THC. That psychoactive effect depends on cannabinoid interaction with CB1 receptors, whereas the CB2 receptors that the NNAs in echinacea interact with effect a relaxation similar to the effects of CBD (which also interacts with CB2 receptors, not with CB1).
Echinacea can be used as a common cold remedy, to build immune strength against viral infections, provide migraine relief, and ease arthritis-related pain.
Tuber melanosporum, the black truffle, contains anandamide, a phytocannabinoid (also found in the human body as an endocannabinoid) that binds to CB1 receptors like cannabis.
The cannabis-like effects of anandamide in black truffles can regulate appetite, regulate mood, improve memory, help pain perception, and may have anti-cancer properties. Perhaps that's why truffles are considered one of the most exclusive culinary ingredients!
Historical research on the black truffle shows evidence of this cannabidiol plant 156 million years ago---up to 146 million years older than the oldest evidence of cannabis. This makes it one of the oldest plants with cannabinoids. Current research into the presence of anandamide in the black truffle and its cannabis-like therapeutic use is ongoing in Italy.
Black pepper contains an amount of beta-caryophyllene terpene, an aroma molecule responsible for the spicy smell in some marijuana strains,. It also contains the alkaloid guineensis. These two compounds together can produce a psychological sense of calm after consumption that's similar to CBD.
The black pepper plant, like other cannabinoid plants, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, including easing arthritis and osteoporosis pain.
Theobroma cacao, which translates to “food of the gods cacao," contains N-acylethanolamines or NAEs, compounds that include theobromine, phenylethylamine, and tryptophan, as well as anandamide, a cannabinoid that also naturally occurs in the brain.
These compounds work together in the endocannabinoid system, making cacao known among cannabinoid plants for regulating mood, improving memory, controlling appetite, regulating pain perception, and supporting fertility.
Acmella oleracea, or electric daisy, is a native plant in Brazil. This lesser-known cannabinoid plant contains N-isobutylamides, compounds that block CB2 pain receptors in the endocannabinoid system that regulate pain and inflammation throughout the body.
Electric daisy is typically used for to reduce pain and inflammation, similar to CBD.
Radula perrottetii, or Japanese liverwort, contains perrottetinene, which is a chemical similar to THC that activates CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system.
Both New Zealand and Japanese varieties are good for treating bronchitis and other breathing problems, as well as problems with the liver, bladder, and gallbladder. However, in contrast to THC, the phytocannabinoids present in liverworts don't produce a psychotropic effect.
Piis per methysticum, known as kava, kava-kava, or other names rooted in various languages in the South Pacific, is a species of tropical cannabidiol plants originating on islands including Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Vanuatu.
The active chemical compounds include kavalactones, alkaloids, and yangonin, which interacts with CB1 receptors in the central endocannabinoid system to produce a calming effect similar to THC.
Traditionally, kava is made into a bitter, yellow-green, nonalcoholic, euphorigenic beverage or tea using the plant's root. The tea is used ceremonially in South Pacific communities and is typically accompanied by ritual preparation and consumption.
Kava can also be used medicinally for its euphoric and calming effects and is good for treating addictions, anxiety, depression, tense muscles, and chronic pain.
Kava is commercially found in root powder forms, such as instant kava, micronized powder, tincture, and capsules and pills. Kava is legal in the US, but the DEA has described some concerns. These plants with cannabinoids are also banned or regulated by many countries including Australia, Germany, and the UK.
Rhododendron species (Ericaceae), like Chinese rhododendron, contain folic acids that interact with the endocannabinoid system and are known for their antibacterial and adaptogenic properties. They may also help in killing staph infections and cancer cells, as well as fighting bronchitis.
Green, black, and white teas, calledCamellia sinensis, contain catechin flavonoids that interact with the endocannabinoid system similar to how cannabis does. That may be the source of tea's effects on lowering cholesterol and improving brain function.
The Future of Cannabinoid Plants
Research into cannabinoids and cannabidiol plants is ongoing, and more information is needed still to understand the therapeutic effects. We also need to better understand how cannabidiol plants fit into a healthy lifestyle.
However, we do know that the ECS and plants with cannabinoids can help improve your sleep, pain, and anxiety. Learn more about our products containing natural CBD and terpenes!