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Aside From Cannabis, Where Else Can You Find Phytocannabinoids?

Written by Sarah Friedman

With all this attention on various cannabinoids and their medicinal benefits, the new question being asked is where else it can be found? The answer seems to be that in nature, phytocannabinoids abound!

CBD – cannabidiol – is one of many phytocannabinoids that is generally associated with the cannabis plant. Much like its counterparts THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), CBN (Cannabinol), CBG (Cannabigerol), and CBC (Cannabichromene), and as of yet to a greater degree, CBD has been the focus of intense medical research into different properties.

Researchers are looking at their ability to help with depression, sleep issues, anxiety, pain management, as an aid in dealing with inconsistent blood sugars, cholesterol issues, addiction, digestive issues, as an anti-cancer agent, and so on. There are so many applications, and possible applications, of these cannabinoids that it’s almost mindboggling.

With all this attention on cannabinoids, and with them showing to be a better option than standard pharmaceutical treatments for many issues, and often with less side effects (think phytocannabinoids as an alternative to pain killers like opiates which are wreaking such havoc on the American population that the industry has instituted all new laws in its effort to curb the growing addiction problem they’ve created), it’s understandable that the question of where else it can be found would be asked. And what about similar compounds, where can they be found, and how might they be beneficial?

When thinking about this topic, and going through the research, it’s best to first remember that this is plant medicine, not pharmaceutical medicine. In plant medicine – or naturopathic medicine – it is already well understood that the same or similar compounds can be found in multiple places, as plants of different families can often be structurally similar. That cannabinoids could be found elsewhere is not a once in a blue moon occurrence at all, but rather a very real expectation in the world of plant medicine.

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The Research Says…

In this 2010 study looking into the topic of cannabinoids that exist in other places, investigators first looked at the definition of a cannabinoid to establish what they were looking to find. The definition at that time was that they were “the terpenophenolic constituents of Cannabis sativa L” which, it points out, were until recently the only known molecules to directly interact with cannabinoid receptors, and only found in the cannabis plant.

It goes on to state that in more recent years, other non-cannabinoid plants have been found to have constituents that also interact with those receptors. Due to these findings, the investigators on this study used this definition for phytocannabinoids: “any plant-derived natural product capable of either directly interacting with cannabinoid receptors or sharing chemical similarity with phytocannabinoids or both.” The general term for when a compound is similar to a cannabinoid without actually being a cannabinoid, is cannabimimetic.

The investigators looked at different compounds when doing this study. Here are some of the basic findings:

  • Fatty Acid Derivatives – While it was already understood that some plant compounds like N-acylethanolamines, won’t interact with cannabinoid receptors, they have been shown to have other effects which in turn were shown to affect the endocannabinoid system, thus making an indirect connection. Compounds found in foods like chocolate and herbs like Echinacea have been found to contain compounds that have this indirect effect leading the investigators to say “it has been proposed that certain dietary fatty acids, which can also be found in plants, can modulate the ECS by influencing the availability of phospholipid biosynthetic precursors of endocannabinoids.” These compounds aren’t phytocannabinoids in the way we generally think about them but can indirectly affect the endocannabinoid system.
  • Terpenes – One of the most interesting is β-caryophyllene found in the essential oils of cloves, rosemary, hops, black pepper, and cannabis as well, and which has been shown to selectively target CB2 receptors. In testing, this compound showed high anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties in mice. Another, salvinorin A, found in salvia, may interact with cannabinoid receptors, which may be formed during inflammatory conditions.

The investigators on this study found that though they haven’t found in nature as many compounds that can activate CB1 receptors, they have found a great deal that interact with CB2 receptors. This implies that while the psychomodulatory effects are less easily identified in nature, the more therapeutic benefits associated with CB2 receptors (anti-pain, anti-inflammation etc.) can be found more easily.

A study done in 2012 looked at flax fiber and found a new terpenoid compound that was not known about before. While the linseed and oil of flax have been studied quite a bit, the fiber was not until more recently. The new compound found has been described as cannabinoid-like, with the closest comparison being CBD. This compound was found to influence anti-inflammatory responses in mice and fibroblasts (which make up connective tissue) in humans.

The new evidence suggests flax as a source for biologically active compounds similar to phytocannabinoids that are able to positively influence immunological response. The implications of it are interesting in that CBD itself is not hurt in the industrial process of fabric making, and these compounds seem not to be either, leading the way for flax fabrics to be used in wound dressing.

In 2017, a study was done looking at the connection between omega-3 fatty acids and cannabinoids. While we know that omega 3’s aren’t actually cannabinoids, these research findings indicate a large number of chemical processes that internally convert omega-3 fatty acids into endocannabinoids (cannabinoids naturally produced in the body), and that this might help explain the anti-inflammatory aspects of omega-3 acids. The research in general shows how omega-3’s can produce some of the same medicinal effects as marijuana, but without the high.

When looking into this topic, the research actually goes back further than expected. As early as 1979 a study was done on the South African flowering plant family known as Helichrysum. The study found eleven resorcinol derivatives, with the majority being closely related to CBG (cannabigerol). Resorcinol is an organic compound found in plants and can be made from resin or prepared synthetically. Finding the CBG-like compounds was surprising for the investigators who at that time assumed that at least some of them were formed through a combination of different biological processes.

Another plant that comes up in research a lot is liverwort. In fact, according to research from 2002 regarding New Zealand liverwort (Radula marginata), a new cannabinoid type was found called perrottetinenic acid, as well as known cannabinoid perrottetinene. Perrottetinenic acid is more structurally similar to THC. This is the first time such compounds have been isolated from Radula marginata, though similar cannabinoids have been found in close relative Radula perrottetii already.

While chocolate was briefly mentioned before, it deserves a bit more of a mention here. The study referenced a lot on this topic was done in 1996, with nothing more recent easily available. In this particular study the investigators were able to isolate anandamide from the chocolate. Anandamide is a lipid that binds to cannabinoid receptors and actually mimics the psychoactive effects. In fact, it is widely believed that chocolate can enhance the effects of marijuana for this reason. This might, in fact, explain the oft experienced chocolate craving. One implication of this finding is that chocolate may reduce the amount of cannabis that a person needs medicinally.

Anandamide – The “Bliss” Molecule of the Endocannabinoid System

Speaking of anandamide, chocolate is not the only place it can be found in the plant world. Another plant producer of this compound is truffles. In a 2014 study it was found that truffles depend on melanin for their reproductive elements to mature. Knowing this, the scientists considered that since anandamide is responsible for melanin synthesis in normal human skin, that it might be present in truffles, and they confirmed this assumption as well as finding endocannabinoid system metabolic enzymes.

One of the more interesting implications of this research is that the endocannabinoid-binding receptors may have developed after anandamide and endocannabinoid system metabolic enzymes, and that anandamide might have been used in the ancient world by plants to attract truffle eaters which  already had an endocannabinoid system.

Where should you get your cannabinoids?

The world of cannabinoids is much bigger than just cannabis or CBD. In fact, it might be quite possible in the future for interested persons to get their fix without consuming any part of the cannabis plant at all. As research continues into where to find cannabinoids and cannabimimetic compounds, we’ll be sure to keep you updated on the best possible applications and products.

For now, until the product market catches up to the medical research, best to buy high quality CBD oils, CBD flowers, CBD isolates, and other relevant CBD products and phytocannabinoids.

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1 Comment

  • There is now also considerable research investigating camellia sinensis (tea), since this has also been shown to stimulate the endo-cannabinoid system, which is not surprising, since the Chinese identified the medicinal properties of tea more than 2000 years ago.

About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.