As you already know, the cannabis plant is a source of many cannabinoids with the most popular being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). But what you may not know is that cannabinoids are found in many plants, some are known in traditional medicine, while others are popular superfoods.
In this article, we’ll focus on other plants that contain cannabinoids and chemical compounds that mimic cannabinoids that stimulate the endocannabinoid system (ECS) apart from cannabis.
Endocannabinoids, Phytocannabinoids, and Cannabimimetics
First let’s differentiate between endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and cannabimimetics.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that are produced by many biological species, and they help regulate a number of biological functions. There are two main cannabinoids, endocannabinoids which are produced by mammals, and phytocannabinoids which are produced by plants.
Endogenous cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids, are lipid-based neurotransmitters that bind to the cannabinoid receptors and regulate physiological and cognitive processes in order to maintain balance or homeostasis. The main processes they regulate include:
- Fertility and pregnancy;
- Prenatal and postnatal development;
- The immune system;
Phytocannabinoids, on the other hand, are produced by plants, and when consumed may produce medicinal effects or make up for endocannabinoid deficiencies. Unlike endocannabinoids, which can’t produce intoxicating and psychoactive effects, phytocannabinoids can.
Beyond endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids, there are substances like cannabimimetics that mimic cannabinoid properties and engage with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Plants that contain phytocannabinoids and cannabimimetic compounds are often called “superfoods.”
The Cannabis Plant
The cannabis plant originates from Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The marijuana plant has many different subspecies that contain different amounts of cannabinoids. Marijuana plants are used recreationally, for medicinal purposes, and sometimes in religious practices depending on the legalization laws in the country. It’s known as one of the plants that contain the highest THC levels.
The hemp plant was first used as industrial hemp in order to make ropes and fabric. Hemp plants are in the cannabis family but differ from marijuana because they only contain trace amounts of THC and are CBD-dominant. They don’t produce psychoactive effects when they interact with the central nervous system and the cannabinoid receptors.
On the other hand, cannabis products that contain THC are mostly used as medical marijuana in order to treat certain conditions like ADHD, depression, epilepsy, and other conditions. Different strains are used to treat different conditions. For example, cannabis Sativa has an anxiety-reducing effect that energizes users, and cannabis Indica has sedative effects that can reduce nausea and chronic pain, and increase appetite.
Male and Female Plants
The cannabis plant has female and male plants. The female plants bloom flower buds which are used to create different marijuana products, along with the trichomes which are located on the leaves, buds, and branches. They also have terpenes (like caryophyllene, limonene, and others) which give marijuana its unique flavor profile. Male plants, on the other hand, are used to breed seeds and make hemp products.
This is one of the most well-known plants which are used medicinally and it isn’t coincidental that it contains cannabimimetics. This plant is oftentimes used to treat some conditions instead of cannabis. Coneflower is used to combat colds, relieve pain, as well as for fatigue, migraines, and other conditions.
The compounds in this plant interact with the ECS and the CB2 receptor similar to cannabinoids. Since the CB2 receptor regulates the immune system and inflammation, the coneflower may produce a similar effect inside the body.
Electric Daisy (Acmella Oleracea)
Electric daisy is a plant that originated from the Amazon, and is known as the “toothache plant”. That is because this plant has anti-inflammatory and anesthetic properties that help heal wounds according to a study.
Acmella Oleracea contains N-isobutylamides which are cannabinoid-like factors that stimulate the CB2 receptor and can act as a pain reliever. Further studies are going into the possibility of this plant to become a dental drug.
The name Helichrysum comes from:
- the Greek (h)elios which means – sun and chrysos– gold;
- the Latin word umbraculigerum which means, bearing woolly umbrellas.
This plant is native to South Africa and has a chemical compound similar to Cannabigerol (CBG) and has been used for culinary or medicinal purposes. CBG is a cannabinoid that has a strong potential to treat depression, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is used to treat wounds. Further research into this plant suggests that it may have similar psychotropic qualities to cannabis.
Liverwort (Radula Marginata)
Liverwort is a plant that is native to New Zealand which has been researched in order to determine how similar it is to THC and found out that it has a similar molecular structure. A study has shown that the Radula Marginata contains perrottetinenic acid which affects the CB1 receptor.
It’s supposed that liverwort has been used as herbal medicine by the Maori, but there is no firm evidence of this. Today it’s used to treat bronchitis, gallbladder, and bladder problems, to stimulate the immune system, to lower cholesterol, to relieve symptoms of menopause, and other conditions.
Black Pepper (Piper Nigrum)
Black pepper has anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a cannabinoid in the human body. Its use has been proved effective for increasing the effects of certain kinds of cancer treatment drugs, it’s used for arthritis, asthma, upset stomach, bronchitis, diarrhea, headaches, and other conditions.
Chocolate (Theobroma Cacao)
Theobroma cacao is a superfood that can provide many health benefits and its translation literally means “food for the gods.” It contains chemicals like theobromine, tryptophan, phenylethylamine, and of course, anandamide which improve the mood.
Anandamide, in particular, regulates feeding behavior, as well as motivation and pleasure. Also, the compound found in chocolate called FAAH interacts with the ECS, breaks down anandamide, and may be a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of pain and CNS disorders according to this study.
Black Truffles (Tuber Melanosporum)
When talking about anandamide, black truffles contain endocannabinoid metabolic enzymes and anandamide according to a study published by Italian researchers. When people eat truffles, they release the bliss molecule which binds to the CB1 receptors in the body. So these expensive mushrooms, which have even been used by the Egyptians, can provide the same benefits as eating chocolate.
Kava (Piper Methyscum)
Kava, or Kava Kava, is a tropical evergreen shrub with heart-shaped leaves that’s native to the Pacific islands and has been used as a local natural medicine. The active ingredients in kava are called kavalactones, and its root is used to make tea which has sedative and anesthetic properties. Kava may be used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, but apart from that, it has been used as a treatment for the common cold, epilepsy, depression, headaches, pain, and other conditions.
Chinese Rhododendron (Rhododendron Anthopogonoides)
The Chinese Rhododendron is found in Southern China and has been a traditional herbal remedy for ages. A study done at the Nihon University found that several acids that are found in the Chinese Rhododendron are cannabinoid-like compounds. Plant extracts can also contain flavonoids, triterpenes, and tannins. In traditional Chinese medicine, this plant has been used to treat phlegm and asthma.
Final Thoughts on Cannabinoids
Cannabis use has been growing as legalization laws are changing as it’s getting easier to get treated with medical marijuana. But, there are some plants that contain cannabinoid-like compounds which may provide similar health benefits to using medical marijuana as a way to treat some conditions. While the science behind them is ever-evolving, some of these plants and superfoods have been used as herbal remedies for a long time.