Ah… Cannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and endocannabinoids. Chances are you’ve seen or heard of all three of these terms at least once, or even hundreds of times, in the last few years.
But aside from being a little tricky to pronounce, you may not be exactly sure what each term actually means. After all, they’re all spelled differently, so that’s gotta prove that they don’t mean the same thing, right?
Right! Because cannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and endocannabinoids all have their own meaning, definition, and purpose, and in just a few minutes you’re going to become an expert regarding these three terms.
Let’s get started…
What are Phytocannabinoids?
First, let’s break down the word: Phyto-cannabinoid. Phyto simply means “of a plant” or “relating to plants”. Now, when we combine phyto with cannabinoid, it’s simply describing a group of compounds that come from a plant.
Let’s take a look at the hemp plant. Do you notice anything? While we can’t physically see them, the hemp plant is packed with hundreds of phyto-nutrients like minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and you guessed it… therapeutic phyto-cannabinoids!
These phytocannabinoids include:
- CBD –– Cannabidiol
- THC –– Tetrahydrocannabinol
- CBN –– Cannabinol
- CBG –– Cannabigerol
- CBC –– Cannabichromene
- THCV -–– Tetrahydrocannabivarin
- THCA –– Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid
- CBDV –– Cannabidivarin
- CBDA –– Cannabidiolic Acid
- CBGA –– Cannabigerolic Acid
And that’s not even half of the phytocannabinoids. As it turns out, scientists have identified more than 100 cannabis-derived phytocannabinoids thus far. So, there’s no telling how many phytocannabinoids actually exist!
Phytocannabinoids are incredibly therapeutic. They hold a ton of medicinal properties that have been studied by some of the most brilliant biochemists in the world. Even they can’t deny that phytocannabinoids hold a ton of therapeutic value for mammals. But why?
Well, it’s all because of our own Endocannabinoids…
What are Endocannabinoids?
Again, we need to break down the word: Endo-cannabinoid. Endo means “internal” or “from within”. And when endo is combined with the term cannabinoid, it‘s simply referring to the internal cannabinoids found within all mammals.
Currently, there are only two endocannabinoids that scientists have focused most of their time and attention to:
- 2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol, or 2-AG for short
- Arachidonoyl Ethanolamide, also known as Anandamide
Note: Scientists also often refer to endocannabinoids as endogenous cannabinoids, because endogenous means “having an internal cause”.
Now, these two endogenous cannabinoids play a huge role in our overall behaviors, mood, and functions. In fact, scientists refer to anandamide as the “bliss molecule” because of its positive effects on our mood. Without our endocannabinoids, we simply wouldn’t function properly.
What’s really interesting about our own endocannabinoids is that they help make up our own Endocannabinoid System, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Let’s now look at…
What are Cannabinoids?
Believe it or not, cannabinoid is simply an umbrella term used to describe both phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids.
You’ll find scientists and other experts use this term interchangeably when referring to the cannabinoids found in cannabis, as well as the cannabinoids found in the human body.
They also use it to describe the receptor cells found in our endocannabinoid system, like endogenous cannabinoids, a.k.a endocannabinoids. We know, it can be a bit confusing, but hang with us.
If you hear or see the word cannabinoid, it’s most likely the short-hand for phytocannabinoid.
Now that we have a clearer picture of what cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and phytocannabinoids actually mean, you might be wondering how phytocannabinoids differ from endocannabinoids. Let’s take a closer look…
Difference between endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids
The main difference between endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids is that one naturally comes from a plant and the other naturally exists within the human body. The other difference is how they interact with each other.
To understand how endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids interact with each other, we need to look at one of the most important systems in the human body….
The Endocannabinoid System and Phytocannabinoids
Back in the late 1980s, scientists were curious to see why THC made humans “high”. So they began exploring their mechanisms in the human body. As they experimented, they discovered a whole new system that medical experts had no prior knowledge about: The Endogenous Cannabinoid System, better known as the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).
The discovery of the ECS was groundbreaking. Medical scientists were blown away at how much influence and direct impact this system had on the human body. In fact, it’s said that our ECS “is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”
What’s even more interesting is that scientists realized that the human body greatly benefits from the use of phytocannabinoids. Some even suggested that they can help improve the functioning of our ECS, by addressing endocannabinoid deficiencies. More studies are needed to confirm this, but it’s an interesting way to look at how endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids interact.
But how do cannabinoids actually work? To answer this question, we now need to look at…
Cannabinoid Receptors and the Benefits of Cannabinoids
Amazingly, you have cannabinoid receptors floating all throughout your body. They’re found in your brain, stomach, and even within the layers of your skin.
According to research, our endocannabinoid receptors are typically divided into two groups:
- CB1 Receptors –– Which are primarily found in our central nervous system
- CB2 Receptors –– Which are predominantly found in our peripheral nervous and immune system
When scientists first discovered our endocannabinoid receptors, they assumed that cannabinoids like CBD and THC worked by disrupting the cell membrane in no specific order.
But after much curiosity, specifically regarding the psychoactive effects of THC, scientists realized that some cannabinoids actually bind to our cannabinoid receptor cells. But not all cannabinoids do this.
In fact, it’s been shown that CBD has very little binding fondness for our cannabinoid receptors. Instead, CBD prefers to indirectly interact with our receptor cells. In other words, CBD is more of an influencer.
Think of CBD as the military sergeant to our army of cannabinoid receptor cells. It helps keep them in line with what they’re supposed to be doing, thus maintaining homeostasis throughout our body.
Scientists have even found that CBD will interfere with how other cannabinoids that bind to our receptor cells. For this reason, higher ratios of CBD can actually counteract the “high” of THC. That’s just one more reason why CBD is embraced by so many.
Here’s another example of how cannabinoids work…
Remember anandamide, our bliss endocannabinoid?
As it turns out, anandamide is a short-lived endocannabinoid, meaning the other molecules and enzymes in our body break it down very fast. But certain cannabinoids, like CBD, CBG, CBC, and even THC, interfere with these molecules, thus slowing down the breakdown of anandamide.
It’s thought that the longer anandamide remains unbroken, the “happier” you feel. Again, more studies are needed to confirm this, but it’s an intriguing scientific theory nonetheless.
We’ll give you one more example on how cannabinoids work within the human body…
Whether you consume CBD, apply it to your skin, or even soak in a highly therapeutic CBD bath bomb-filled tub, its properties are targeting and influencing certain cannabinoid receptor cells in your body.
Now, those cannabinoid receptors may be in your spinal nerves, immune system, in the layers of your skin, etc. Wherever the imbalance is more present, it’s thought that CBD will infiltrate.
That’s why so many people report less pain, quality sleep, better mobility, anxiety, and stress relief, etc. The benefits of cannabinoids, especially CBD, are seemingly endless (depending on the individual).
Important Note: The key to receiving therapeutic benefits from cannabinoids like CBD is to only buy high quality CBD and other cannabinoid-based products from reputable CBD brands.
Cannabinoid vs. Phytocannabinoid vs. Endocannabinoid: Takeaways
Now that you know the meaning of these three terms, they don’t look so daunting anymore, do they? Nevertheless, here are some key takeaways:
While the term cannabinoid is often used interchangeably for both phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids, it’s important that you pay close attention to the context at which “cannabinoid” is being used. If it’s referring to our ECS, it’s likely an endocannabinoid, but if it’s referencing cannabis, it’s likely describing phytocannabinoids.
As for the difference between endocannabinoids vs. phytocannabinoids, it’s really quite simple: Endocannabinoid means from within your body, and phytocannabinoid means from a plant.
While more research is needed regarding how cannabinoids work within our Endocannabinoid System, what we know for sure is that they do hold tremendous therapeutic value, especially regarding topical application.
If you’re interested to see if CBD is good for your skin, then check out our article on CBD Skin Care Explained.
For all other questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to reach out to our Alike team. We’re always happy to help!