9 Plants that Contain Cannabinoids
Do any other plants contain cannabinoids besides cannabis? We hear this question often from eager customers who wish to expand their knowledge and learn more about all things cannabis. If you’ve ever asked yourself this question too, keep on reading!
Although many people assume cannabis is the only plant that contains cannabinoids, cannabinoids are not unique to cannabis. In fact, many plants contain cannabinoids besides cannabis.
The key with cannabinoids is the unique relationship each cannabinoid compound has with receptors within the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is composed of many complex lipid signaling networks. These networks work together to create both actual or potential therapeutic effects .
In general, there are three categories of cannabinoids:
1) phytocannabinoids - these are produced by plants
2) endogenous cannabinoids - these are found naturally in humans and animals
3) synthetic cannabinoids - this type is produced synthetically in a laboratory and is sometimes molecularly and structurally different from naturally-produced cannabinoids .
Furthermore, there are compounds called cannabimimetics. Cannabimimetics mimic some of the same effects as cannabinoids; however, they technically are not cannabinoids. Additionally, some cannabimimetics directly interact with cannabinoid (CB) receptors while some others do not .
9 plants that contain cannabinoids (besides cannabis and hemp)
1. Cacao (Theobroma cacao)
Frequently touted as a superfood, Theobroma cacao is a compound that has many therapeutic benefits. Not to be confused with milk chocolate, cacao (or cocoa) is taken from the cocoa tree's fruit, where it is then dried, fermented, and sifted into a powder, which contains high levels of flavanols N-acylethanolamines (NAEs) in particular . By increasing intracellular calcium levels through a series of complex pathways, these NAEs increase anandamide activity within the human brain. Because cacao is rich in NAEs, it is thought to improve one’s emotions, cognitive and executive function, and perception of pain.
2. Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
A seemingly ordinary spice, this pepper can pack a punch! In addition to enhancing any food dish, black pepper (specifically Piper nigrum) is naturally rich in β-caryophyllene (BCP). This compound is what gives black pepper its distinctive “spiciness.” But what’s really interesting is that BCP not only selectively, but also strongly activates the cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptor . Furthermore, Piper nigrum is saturated with a compound called N-isobutylamide guineesine, which enhances the endocannabinoid system5. There’s even preliminary research suggesting that BCP could play a role in anticancer activity !
3. Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum)
A plant originating from South Africa, helichrysum italicum has long been used in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory and infection-preventing effects. Like echinacea, helichrysum italicum is slightly different in molecular structure compared to cannabinoids. However, it has the same bioactivity as cannabinoids and is commonly used as an antidepressant .
4. Black Truffles (Tuber melanosporum)
Affectionately known as “The Other Magic Mushroom,” black truffles are not only delicious but also contain our dear friend anandamide. Yes, the very same anandamide found in both cannabis and cacao. Humans (and some animals) have special receptors for the anides of this “Magic Mushroom,” leading effects of “inner bliss.” Because anandamide is a part of a larger group of chemicals called endocannabinoids, there are implications that black truffles may be effective in treating depression and anxiety .
5. Chinese Rhododendron (Rhododendron anthopogonoides)
Chinese Rhododendron is a native Chinese plant, hence the name. Like echinacea, the Chinese Rhododendron contains two compounds that mimic cannabinoids, specifically anthopogocyclolic acid and anthopogochromenic acid. Additionally, it contains five other compounds known as “synthetic analogs of cannabinoids .” Collectively, these compounds work together to create anti-inflammatory effects and are thought to temper severe migraines.
6. Coneflower (Echinacea)
Next up is echinacea (sometimes referred to as coneflower). Echinacea is different from the other compounds we’ve talked about because while it isn’t structurally a cannabinoid, functionally, it acts like one. Specifically, it binds to the CB2 receptor. Because of this binding, echinacea is thought to mitigate anxiety, extreme fatigue, and inflammation .
7. Electric Daisy (Acmella oleracea)
Another cannabimimetic, the Brazillian-native Acmella oleracea is currently being heavily studied as a potential therapeutic treatment for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's Disease . Wicked cool, right? Outside of that, Acmella oleracea is suggested to have the ability to block pain and regulate systemic inflammation .
8. Japanese Liverwort (Radula perrottetii)
An organism similar to moss, the Japanese liverwort contains a compound called “perrottetinene,” a chemical that is bioactive similar to THC . In fact, perrottetinene activates cannabinoid receptors even more strongly than THC, creating more potent anti-inflammatory effects in the brain. Even better, “perrottet linen is less psychoactive than THC .” Although more research is currently needed, Radula perrottetii has great potential as a therapeutic treatment for chronic and inflammatory pain.
9. Kava (Piper methysticum)
Last, but certainly not least, is kava (or Piper methysticum). Like echinacea, kava (also often referred to as kava kava) is known for its calming effects and is frequently found in medicinal teas. There are actually five kava-derived compounds that all can bind to cannabinoid receptors. However, the yangonin strand is the key player. Only yangonin strongly binds to the CB1 receptors, though not as strongly as THC . However, more research is needed to determine if yangonin has the same psychoactive properties as THC. Then again, kava has been used in teas for centuries by native Pacific Islanders, so interpret that information as you wish.
Clearly, cannabis and hemp do not have exclusive rights to phytocannabinoids, even if they have the highest concentration of phytocannabinoids. Furthermore, though cannabis is the only plant that contains THC, there are clearly other plants containing compounds that mimic THC, though more robust research is needed.
Reviewed for scientific accuracy by Skyler Quisenberry.