What makes up a cannabis plant?

THIS ARTICLE IS INTENDED FOR PATIENTS

As many of us may know, cannabis plants contain cannabinoid components, which interact with cannabinoid receptors in our endocannabinoid system. Interestingly, cannabis plants also contain non-cannabinoid components. Overall, these plants contain at least 750 constituents and their known chemical composition is constantly changing, due to the discovery of new components.

Cannabinoid components, for example:
THC
CBD

Non-cannabinoid components, for example:
Terpenes
Flavonoids

THC

THC, also called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary psychoactive substance found in cannabis. It is responsible for producing the ‘high’, which many people associate with cannabis.

CBD

CBD, also called cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive substance. It has attracted increasing interest because of its potential for therapeutic use.

Terpenes

Terpenes are a large and diverse group of substances, produced by numerous plants. They emit different odours, likely serving as protection against herbivores. Terpenes, such as limonene, myrcene, α-pinene, and linalool, are responsible for the odour of the different cannabis plants. However, cannabis plants are not the only place where these terpenes are found. For example, limonene is also found in citrus fruits, myrcene in hops, α-pinene in pine and linalool in lavender.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are produced by many plants and found abundantly in numerous foods of plant origin, such as fruits, vegetables, tea, cocoa and wine. In plants, they are responsible for a wide range of functions, such as defence against herbivores and pathogens, attraction of animal vectors for pollination and seed dispersal, antioxidant activity and protection from solar ultraviolet radiation, wounding, mineral nutrient imbalances and temperature extremes.

Are all cannabis plants identical?

Cannabis plants are not all identical. There are different species including Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, and the concentrations of different cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid components vary between these species and different strains. For example, Cannabis sativa has higher levels of THC than Cannabis indica. The concentration of these substances also depends on the plant’s age, growth conditions (nutrition, humidity, light level), harvest time and storage conditions.

Understanding the different substances present in cannabis plants is critical as it can improve our knowledge and advance research into their potential therapeutic uses.