It may sound odd to think of cannabinoids – one of the primary constituents of marijuana – as a class of vitamins. This is especially true given the current climate surrounding the hot-button issue of the plant’s legalization (or lack thereof, as the case may be). How could something that is illegal actually be a vitamin, right?
When most people think of the word “vitamin,” they are thinking about essential vitamins. Essential vitamins are nutrients that our bodies cannot produce on their own, and therefore need to be consumed for optimal health. This is not the only class of vitamins that exist, however. Nonessential vitamins are also necessary for good health, but since our bodies are able to produce them independently, these vitamins do no necessarily need to be consumed. Vitamin D is an example of a nonessential nutrient, provided you get ample sunlight. Nonessential nutrients can still be consumed, of course.
Endogenous cannabinoids are chemical compounds that are produced by your own bodies. Anadamide and 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG) are two of the known endogenous cannabinoid compounds that are produced by the body and interact with our cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. Exogenous cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids, are similar compounds that are produced by substances outside of the body, such as hemp or cannabis plants. THC and CBD are two of the most well-known plant-based cannabinoids.
So, what do cannabinoids do, exactly? Well for one, they have been found to have a profound influence on the immune system. When acting on the CB1 receptors, cannabinoids are found to primarily execute their effects through the brain and central nervous system. When acting on the CB2 receptors, cannabinoids execute their effects through the gut, lymphatic system, pancreas, endocrine system and the peripheral nervous system.
Because of the wide variety of tissues that have cannabinoid receptors, the range of benefits provided by cannabinoids is quite impressive. For example, cannabinoids have been found to provide anti-cancer benefits across the body, even in low amounts. Reports have also indicated that cannabinoids could be an effective treatment option for people who suffer with autoimmune diseases. Many autoimmune diseases relate back to problems with the intestinal lining, so it makes sense that cannabinoids that interact with the gut would help to manage these conditions.
So in summary, cannabinoids are nutrients that our own bodies are capable of producing, are essential for proper functioning of the body and have health-boosting properties. They mirror the definition of a nonessential vitamin, and yet, they still remain illegal. What a sham.