Cannabis is the only known plant that produces tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but it remains an imperfect container for producing the chemical on an industrial scale. These compounds bind to receptors found in the endocannabinoid system, known as CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are thought to help regulate a wide range of bodily functions, especially in the central nervous system and the immune system. But did you know that other plants contain compounds similar to cannabinoids?Yes, members of the humble genus sunflower contain compounds similar to cannabinoids. Helichrysum, a genus consisting of 600 varieties of sunflowers native to South Africa, contains cannabigerol-like phytocannabinoids (CBG) called amorfrutins.
Echinacea, a plant used therapeutically for thousands of years, contains cannabimimetic compounds called N-alkylamides (NAA) that activate cannabinoid CB2 receptors. Black truffles have been found to contain anandamide, an endocannabinoid found in our body and that produces it, which interacts with the endocannabinoid system. Black pepper is a common household spice used to spice up any dish and contains beta-caryophyllene (BCP), a terpene found in cannabis (albeit in much higher concentrations). Cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, contains beneficial N-acylethanolamines (NAE).
Electric daisy is also commonly used to soothe dental discomfort due to the numbing effect caused by N-isobutylamides. Kava is an extract made from a plant native to the Pacific Islands called Piper methysticum and contains a compound called “yangonin”, which interacts with CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. These findings suggest that current trends to prefer variants with higher THC content carry significant health risks, especially for those who are susceptible to its harmful effects. It is intriguing that during human cultural evolution, man has detected natural plant products that seem to target key protein receptors of important physiological systems in a rather selective way. Before becoming a freelance writer, Adrianne worked for many years as a marine aquaculture research technician at Plant & Food Research in New Zealand.
Nowadays, cannabis scientists are quite familiar with CBG, CBC and THCV, but they are only getting acquainted with the rest of the gang. Known as Camellia sinensis, the leaves and shoots of this shrub plant (used to make tea) contain compounds known as “catechins”, which are a type of flavonoid known to interact with the endogenous cannabinoid system. The electric daisy, a plant native to Brazil and scientifically known as Acmella oleracea, is well known for the numbing effect it produces when chewed (often compared to “electrocution”). Ruta graveolens is a species of ornamental plant native to the Balkan Peninsula and contains compounds similar to cannabinoids. This system was called the “cannabinoid receptor system” because of the binding affinity of D-9-THC to these receptors as a partial agonist. It is clear that plants other than cannabis contain compounds similar to cannabinoids or chemicals that otherwise influence the function of the endocannabinoid system.
This means that there are many natural sources of compounds that interact with our bodies' cannabinoid receptors. While cannabis remains an imperfect container for producing THC on an industrial scale, there are many other plants and fungi that can provide us with beneficial compounds that interact with our endocannabinoid systems.