Plants That Have Cannabinoid-like Effects

Although cannabis might be one of the most well-known psychoactive and potentially medicinal plants, there are a plethora of plants that have similar value. Many of which, have been utilized for hundreds of years! This article discusses what cannabinoids are, the effects of cannabis, other plants that interact with the endocannabinoid system, how plants have been used historically for their medicinal and psychoactive properties, and which plants we can potentially benefit from today.

A cannabis plant with purple and green hues. 
Learn about various cannabinoids.
Source: Diyahna Lewis Unsplash

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a group of chemical compounds that are most famously known for their presence in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system in humans, regulating a range of physiological and cognitive processes. The psychoactive and medicinal properties of cannabinoids have been a subject of ongoing research, as cannabis has shown a huge promise for medical applications although further research is required to confirm its therapeutic potential.

The most well-known cannabinoid type is psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the primary, and dare I say most valued, component of cannabis. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and produces the typical marijuana experience when consuming Indica or Sativa plants (although cannabinoid profiles vary depending on the strain). Cannabidiol (CBD) is the other significant cannabinoid that binds to cannabinoid receptors, and as a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, it is loved by many users for its potential therapeutic opportunities without accompanying psychoactive effects. As you can see, the pharmacological effects of cannabinoids vary vastly and might benefit both the body and the mind. 

What Is The Cannabinoid CBC?

While cannabinoids like THC and CBD are pretty well-known by mainstream society, there are scores of other cannabinoids that are contained in marijuana plants, one of which is cannabichromene (CBC).

CBC, which was discovered over half a century ago, is understood by researchers to be a very powerful cannabinoid that is non-pyschoactive, which means that it won’t leave users feeling mentally altered. Despite being one of the “big six” cannabinoids in medical marijuana research, it doesn’t get the same kind of attention that THC, CBD, CBN, and CBG do.

What Is The Cannabinoid PHC?

In the arcana of cannabinoids contained in hemp plants, hydro4phc, which is more commonly known as “PHC,” is one of the minor ones that has only recently begun to be studied.

What researchers have ascertained about it so far is that it may have effects that closely mirror those of THC and is claimed by many users to provide quite the amazing experience. In addition, due to the fact that PHC is found in hemp plants, which were made legal in the U.S. with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, it is legal in all 50 states!

Again, because this is such a “new” cannabinoid, there’s not enough research to say exactly what its benefits are and because it can only be found in trace amounts in hemp there still aren’t a lot of products out there that contain PHC. However, at this point, all signs and reports from those who have tried it indicate that like THC, it may have the anecdotal ability to imbue users with a strong uplifting sense of euphoria and relaxation, as well as a cerebral and physical high.

Plants That Are Similar To Cannabis 

Cannabinoids are not exclusive to the cannabis plant, although the majority of the population might think so. Other plants contain compounds that can interact with the endocannabinoid system or produce similar pharmacological effects as marijuana. Numerous medicinal plants have also been purported to have similar medicinal benefits as marijuana. Of course, the jury is always out on these types of claims, and more research is needed to support them.

A closeup shot of a marijuana bud.
What types of plants contain cannabinoids?
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Plants Containing Cannabinoids Or Similar Compounds

1. Liverwort (Radula marginata): This plant contains perrottetinenic acid, a compound structurally similar to THC but has a weaker bind to CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. Its effects are milder compared to cannabis, and it doesn’t produce the pronounced psychoactive effects that are experienced with many cannabis strains. However, it may hold potential for research as an inflammatory mediator.

2. Echinacea (Coneflower): Echinacea species contain compounds known as N-alkylamides (NAAs), which can modulate the endocannabinoid system, albeit differently from cannabinoids in cannabis. These NAAs interact primarily with the CB2 receptor, which plays a key role in the immune system. Echinacea is widely recognized for its positive effect on immune cells, and it may also have anti-inflammatory effects, somewhat akin to the non-psychoactive effects of CBD.

3. Black Truffle (Tuber melanosporum): This gourmet delicacy was found to contain anandamide, an endocannabinoid that interacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the human body. While truffles don’t produce a psychoactive effect like cannabis, the presence of anandamide signifies a fascinating evolutionary parallel!

4. Cacao (Theobroma cacao): Cacao is interesting because it doesn’t contain cannabinoids but influences the endocannabinoid system by inhibiting the breakdown of endocannabinoids in the body, thus prolonging their effect. It contains compounds that increase the levels of anandamide in the brain, leading to a feeling of euphoria and relaxation, often associated with consuming a Hershey’s bar.

5. Kava (Piper methysticum): While not directly affecting the endocannabinoid system, kava contains kavalactones that produce potential therapeutic effects that are somewhat similar to the relaxing effects of certain cannabinoids. Kava is used for its sedative and euphoriant properties.

Medicinal Plants Similar To Cannabis

1. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): John’s Wort works through mechanisms distinct from cannabinoids but offers similar potential mental health benefits.

2. Ginkgo biloba: Used for its cognitive-enhancing properties, Ginkgo biloba doesn’t act directly on the endocannabinoid system but improves cerebral blood flow and enhanced neuroprotection, which parallels some of the neuroprotective properties researched in cannabinoids.

3. Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Contains curcumin, a compound with significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Its effects on inflammation mirror some of the potential medicinal uses of cannabis, though it does not interact with the endocannabinoid system in the same way.

4. Peppermint (Mentha piperita): The menthol in peppermint acts as a natural analgesic and has been known to have anti-inflammatory effects. While its mode of action is different, its uses parallel some uses of medical cannabis.

5. Ginseng: This plant is revered for its numerous health benefits, including boosting energy levels and reducing worried thinking. Ginseng’s adaptogenic properties make it beneficial for overall well-being.

Historical Uses And Effects On The Human Body

The same plants that we are using today, have been used by different cultures for their psychoactive and medicinal effects for centuries! Below, we give you all of the nitty-gritty details. 

A person grinding herbs in a mortar.
Discover the intriguing history of cannabis!
Source: Katherine Hanlon Unsplash

Ancient Civilizations And Their Medicinal Plants

  • Ancient Egypt: The Ebers Papyrus, dating back to around 1550 BCE, is one of the oldest preserved medical documents. It details a multitude of plants used for their potential healing properties. For instance, garlic and onions were commonly used for their therapeutic benefits, including their ability to ward off diseases and improve strength and endurance. The blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea), with its mild psychoactive properties, was used in religious rituals and possibly as an aphrodisiac.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): Dating back thousands of years, TCM has utilized a myriad of plants, the most recognized is Ginseng, renowned for its rejuvenating and restorative properties. Similarly, the peony was used for its anti-inflammatory effects and analgesic properties. TCM also used cannabis, recognizing its analgesic effects.
  • Ayurveda in Ancient India: Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine in India, has been using a variety of plants for health and wellness for over 3000 years. Ashwagandha, for example, was used for its stress-relieving and rejuvenating properties, and it is still used for this purpose today. Bacopa (Brahmi) was employed to enhance memory and cognitive functions.

Indigenous Tribes And Their Relationship With Medicinal Plants

  • Native Tribes From North America: Many tribes from North America used plants like echinacea for immune support and to treat infections. White willow bark, containing a precursor to aspirin, was used for relief, and psychoactive plants like peyote were, and still are, used in religious ceremonies for spiritual enhancement.
  • Amazonian Tribes: The Amazon rainforest is a treasure trove of medicinal plants! Tribes such as the Yanomami and Shipibo-Conibo have extensive knowledge of these plants, such as Ayahuasca, a brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and other ingredients. This psychoactive concoction has been used in spiritual and healing rituals, believed to offer deep psychological insights and emotional healing. Other plants like the Cinchona tree, from which quinine is derived, were used to treat malaria.
  • African Tribes: In Africa, various tribes have a long history of using plants for medicinal purposes. The bark of the Yohimbe tree was used for its stimulant and aphrodisiac properties, and the African dream root (Silene undulata) was used by the Xhosa people of South Africa for inducing vivid dreams, which aided in spiritual guidance and healing rituals.

Ancient Europe And The Middle East

  • The Greeks and Romans: The works of Hippocrates and Galen reflect the extensive use of medicinal plants. The Greeks used opium poppy for relief and as a sleep aid. The Romans made use of plants like henbane and mandrake, both for their anesthetic properties during surgeries and for their psychoactive effects in religious rituals.
  • The Middle East and Early Islamic Medicine: Islamic medicine, influenced by Greek and Persian knowledge, incorporated a vast array of plants. Avicenna, a Persian polymath, wrote extensively on the use of herbs in his medical texts. Frankincense and myrrh, well known for their use in religious contexts, were also valued for their medicinal properties, particularly for their anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.

Psychoactive Plants In Historical Context

As you can see, the use of psychoactive plants often had a spiritual or religious connotation. Many cultures regarded these plants as sacred, believing they could facilitate communication with the divine or provide deep insights into the mysteries of life and death. For example, the use of psilocybin mushrooms in Mesoamerican cultures was not only for healing purposes but also for spiritual communion. Although modern-day culture has largely lost the spiritual connotations of plants, there are still communities and individuals who use plants for guidance and reflection.

Effects On The Human Body 

The effects of cannabis, as well as other psychoactive and potentially medicinal plants, on the human body, can range from anecdotal therapeutic benefits, to adverse effects, particularly when used irresponsibly or in excess. Psychoactive plants can alter perception, mood, and consciousness, sometimes resulting in long-lasting changes in mental function, especially with sustained use.

Learning from the historical use of plants for medicinal and psychoactive purposes provides valuable insights into their potential applications today. Many traditional uses of plants have been validated through modern scientific research, leading to the development of new medications and therapies. However, it’s important to approach this knowledge, and the use of these plants, with a balance of respect for traditional practices, caution, and potentially with advice from a doctor who takes a naturopathic approach to health, always keeping in mind that many of these plants’ purported benefits are anecdotal.

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