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Cannabinoids: The Ultimate Guide

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
  • Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system.

    There are cannabinoids found in nature, and some that our bodies can make themselves, called endocannabinoids.

    Fatty acids, like those found in fatty15, can help your body synthesize fully acting endocannabinoids, which can help balance our bodies.

Until recently, the words “CBD” and “cannabinoid” were wrongly used interchangeably. It’s only been over the past decade that the general population has accepted cannabinoids as an integral part of healthcare. 

Even though you may have a general understanding of cannabinoids that come from the use of cannabis (both recreational and medical cannabis), you probably don’t know that an entire system in your body is specifically dedicated to using cannabinoids, which can actually be made inside of your body (endocannabinoids) or attained from everyday foods like eggs, fish, spices, herbs, and even veggies like broccoli and kale. 

You also might not know that the most popular cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, or THC are only a few of over 100 cannabinoids that have been discovered.

Together, we’ll explore the endocannabinoid system and learn about the cannabinoids that interact with it. 

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

Before we talk about cannabinoids, we need to understand the system in our body that responds to them. It’s called the endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system, sometimes referred to as the endocannabinoid signaling system or ECS, was discovered in the nineties. Because its discovery was recent, it’s largely uncharted territory for scientists to research. 

The ECS is a system in your body that interacts and plays a role in virtually every regulatory bodily process we have, including: 

  • Cognition and memory
  • Emotions and mood
  • Sleep 
  • Hunger
  • Body temperature 
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Inflammation 

This vast network of chemical signals, messages, and responses contains receptors in the brain and body. These receptors are called cannabinoid receptors. 

How Does the ECS Work?

There are two cannabinoid receptor types in your body: CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors.

  • CB1 receptors. These are the receptors located in the brain. They regulate the transfer of neurotransmitters across synapses, encouraging the regulation of functions. They act like a remote control: turning up the heat if you’re cold, turning down the fight or flight sensation if you need to calm down, and more.
  • CB2 receptors. These receptors are in bodily tissue that make up parts of the immune system. They also play a role in digestion and protecting the gastrointestinal system from inflammation. These receptors also help regulate intestinal pain and discomfort. 

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system by binding or interacting with endocannabinoid receptors. There are two types of cannabinoids: exogenous (ones that originate outside of the body) and endogenous (those that originate inside the body). 

Any compound that can interact with your body's CB1 and CB2 receptors is considered a cannabinoid. Your body makes its own chemical compounds that bind to these receptors, called endocannabinoids, but there are also chemicals in nature that have the ability to bind with your endocannabinoid system. These too are cannabinoids — specifically called phytocannabinoids (phyto- meaning they originate from plants, versus endo- meaning they originate in the human body.

Cannabinoids bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in your brain and body and may help regulate processes that are controlled by the endocannabinoid system. 

The effects of cannabinoids on the body depend on which cannabinoid is used. You may experience a more balanced appetite, a more consistent sleep/wake schedule, an elevated mood, sharper memory, or fewer feelings of stress and worry. Some cannabinoids are also known for their pain relief properties, even when not ingested and instead applied as a topical analgesic cream. 

How Many Cannabinoids Exist?

There are between 80-100 known cannabinoids, a significant chunk of them coming from the cannabis sativa plant. While this is the same plant from which we extract THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the remainder of the cannabinoids found in the plant don’t produce psychoactive effects.

In fact, many of the cannabinoids that have been isolated from the cannabis plant have been found to have various therapeutic effects. 

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one cannabinoid in particular that did so well in clinical trials to treat epilepsy that there is now a fully FDA-approved drug with CBD as the main ingredient.

The pharmaceuticals industry in general still has a long way to go in terms of further researching pharmacology-related implications as well as the overall effects of cannabis for chronic use cases in a clinical setting, but the future is very promising for the role of cannabinoids in our health. 

Other popular cannabinoids include cannabinol (CBN), which is a cannabis derivative that has been reported to help with sleep without causing drowsiness, cannabigerol (CBG), which is being explored for its relieving effects in chronic pain cases, and of course, THC-based molecules (including THCv and THCa) that have been used to help stimulate appetite and relieve pain in cancer patients. 

What Are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made compounds that work like cannabinoids but are typically much stronger. Oftentimes, these compounds are psychoactive and intended for recreational use. 

However, there are some synthetic cannabinoids that are used medicinally, such as Nabilone and Dronabinol, drugs that are sometimes used to help treat nausea in chemotherapy patients. 

Side Effects of Cannabinoid Use

The problem with using cannabinoids is that it can be difficult to be sure you’re getting the right concentrations, or an accurate, quality product. Although CBD products have been federally legalized for manufacture and sale in the U.S. (provided it doesn’t contain more than 0.3% THC), these products and other cannabinoid products aren’t regulated by the FDA like drugs are. 

Only a few drugs that contain cannabinoids are regulated by the FDA: the anti-nausea medicines above, and Epidiolex, a medication that contains cannabidiol and is used for epilepsy. 

That said, even though clear and consistent research on the use of cannabinoid supplements is just beginning, there are very rarely adverse effects reported on non-psychoactive cannabinoids (which is a majority of them). While therapeutic effects can differ based on the blend or formula, cannabinoids generally contribute to supporting overall wellness without adverse effects because of how they work in the body. 

What Are Endocannabinoids? 

Your body makes its own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids. The first one to be discovered was anandamide, or AEA. This compound works as an endogenous ligand of CB1 receptors, which is just a term meaning it’s produced in the body and bonds to those receptors.

Anandamine was the first endocannabinoid ever isolated in the human body, and was given its name after the Sanskrit word for bliss, because it was thought that this cannabinoid controlled feelings of euphoria and happiness. AEA can only bind to CB1 receptors, unlike the second known endocannabinoid, 2-AG.

2-arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG is the other known endocannabinoid and is thought to play a major role in regulation of appetite and supporting the immune system. This endocannabinoid can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.

How Does the Body Make Endocannabinoids?

Through research, we’ve discovered that the body makes 2-AG by using an omega-6 fatty acid as an agonist. The omega-6 fatty acid, called arachidonic acid, helps the body synthesize 2-AG. That should mean that supplementing with omega-6 should make even more 2-AG and help us enjoy more benefits of this endocannabinoid, right?

Well, the problem is that omega-6, though somewhat beneficial, has an Achilles’ heel: it metabolizes rapidly and has a short shelf life that can cause it to go rancid and become unuseful.

A new study, however, has found a second fully-acting endocannabinoid. This study found that the body can use a fatty acid called C15:0 along with carnitine to make pentadecanoylcarnitine (PDC). 

When tested, researchers found that PDC fully activates both CB1 and CB2 receptors.

Unlike omega-6, C15:0 doesn’t become rancid, and has a whole host of other health benefits for your body, too.

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C15:0: A Key to Better Health

If you haven’t heard of C15:0, that’s because it’s kind of the new kid on the block. Even though it’s been present in our food and diets for centuries, shifts toward different dietary styles have practically eliminated our circulating levels of this essential fatty acid. 

Who Discovered C15:0?

While helping dolphins live healthier lives, Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, a veterinary epidemiologist, discovered that some geriatric dolphins had less age-related illnesses than others.

Dr. Venn-Watson found that higher circulating levels of a particular fatty acid were responsible for many of the health benefits that were seen in the healthiest dolphins. 

She went further, looking into the health benefits of this molecule in human populations and three years later, published her findings in Nature's Scientific Reports in 2020. The fatty acid responsible for these health benefits was C15:0, aka pentadecanoic acid. 

What Is C15:0?

C15:0 is an odd-chain, essential, saturated fatty acid that can help the body create the endocannabinoid PDC, along with supporting a myriad of other health benefits:*

  • Cellular health. By integrating into cell membranes and boosting mitochondrial function, C15:0b can help keep your cells functioning properly.
  • PPARs. C15:0 binds to receptors found throughout our bodies, called PPARs, that help to regulate our metabolism, including our cholesterol and glucose homeostasis.
  • Improved mood, sleep, and appetite control. Higher circulating levels of C15:0 are associated with balanced mood, better sleep, and less snacking between meals. In fact, less snacking is the only known side effect of C15:0 supplementation. 

Further, higher levels of C15:0 has been repeatedly associated with healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as improved heart health. That’s a lot of good news for your body and mind.

C15:0, the Fatty15 Way

C15:0 is primarily found in trace levels in whole-fat dairy products, as well as some types of fish and plants. However, simply increasing your intake of whole-fat dairy products comes with extra calories, sugars, and high levels of the "bad" even-chain saturated fats.

A solution? Fatty15

Fatty15 is a breakthrough supplement, borne from scientific discovery, containing one, pure ingredient, FA15™. This vegan-friendly, sustainable version of C15:0 doesn’t go rancid like omega-3 or omega-6, and you’ll only need 100 mg per day to reestablish a healthy circulating level of this fatty acid in your body.

When you think of doing something good for your health, consider a safe, natural alternative that can help your body make more of the endocannabinoids it needs, and support your heart health at the same time. Fatty15 is the simple way to feel better and age healthfully. 

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Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System|MDPI

Cannabinoids - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Is CBD legal? Here’s what you need to know, according to science | PBS NewsHour

Better Data for a Better Understanding of the Use and Safety Profile of Cannabidiol (CBD) Products | U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Dronabinol (Oral Route) Proper Use - Mayo Clinic

Brain activity of anandamide: a rewarding bliss? - PMC

Pentadecanoylcarnitine is a newly discovered endocannabinoid with pleiotropic activities relevant to supporting physical and mental health | Scientific Reports

Efficacy of dietary odd-chain saturated fatty acid pentadecanoic acid parallels broad associated health benefits in humans: could it be essential? | Scientific Reports

Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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