Cannabis is a multifaceted wonder plant with the potential to radically change the world. That’s a big claim to make, but cannabis science is continually discovering fascinating new facts about the therapeutic and medicinal value of this plant. Cannabis contains hundreds of compounds that make it such a diverse plant with thousands of cultivars. But perhaps the shining star ingredient is the ever-present cannabinoids.
These compounds work effortlessly within the human body to help maintain homeostasis, heal and treat, and offer support in many wellness areas. Read on to learn more about the nature of cannabinoids and how our bodies are made to work in harmony with them.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Have you ever wondered why smoking weed gets you high? What exactly about weed causes that stoned feeling? It’s because of chemical compounds in the cannabis plant known as cannabinoids. These naturally occurring chemicals interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) to regulate many important bodily functions like sleep, mood, appetite, temperature, digestion, and so much more. The ECS is an incredible network that helps the body maintain homeostasis, and all animals have one.
The human body makes its own endocannabinoids, but it also interacts with phytocannabinoids from cannabis. The word “phyto” means of, or relating to plants, but for this purpose, we’ll just refer to the compounds from cannabis as cannabinoids. The cannabis plant is full of amazing nutrition like vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, protein, and fiber. It also contains flavonoids, terpenes, and over 100 cannabinoids. And that’s just what science has discovered so far.
Each cannabinoid has distinct properties, from their molecular structure to how they affect our body and mind.Once consumed and processed within the body, cannabinoids interact with one of two receptors in the vast network of the ECS.
Cannabinoid Receptors: CB1 & CB2
While scientists are still researching all of the ways the ECS functions, they do know that it is composed of three main parts: endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors. While there may be more receptors yet undiscovered, there are two we know a fair bit about. The CB1 receptors are found throughout the central nervous system, helping to regulate things pertaining to the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves spanning from the spinal cord, and this is where you’ll find the CB2 receptors. These receptors focus more on immune cells, hormones, muscles, and gastrointestinal system.
The most abundant cannabinoid found in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC has a high affinity for binding with the CB1 receptors, which moderat the psychoactive properties of THC. This is why THC can alter mood, consciousness, motor control, memory, and behavior since it is interacting with the receptors associated with the central nervous system.
There are no receptors that are specific to individual cannabinoids. Instead, cannabinoids bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors and act as agonists or antagonists. Agonists mimic the body’s natural endocannabinoids to activate the receptors and stimulate a response, while the antagonist actions block cannabinoid receptors and reduce their activity levels. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has little affinity for either the CB1 or CB2 receptors, but does antagonize the presence of THC. In fact, CBD is known to reduce the psychoactive effects of THC when consumed together.
How Many Cannabinoids Are There?
Of the 545 compounds found in cannabis, 144 of them have been identified as phytocannabinoids. These cannabinoids have been grouped into sub-categories according to their molecular structure.
Most people are familiar with THC and CBD as the dominant cannabinoids. They are certainly the most prevalent in marijuana and hemp, but within the last decade, research has learned much about other minor cannabinoids and their functions within the ECS. In turn, cannabis cultivators have grown strains rich in these other cannabinoids to offer more therapeutic value from this incredible plant.
There is a phenomenon that occurs when we consume cannabis in its whole form, without isolating and segregating the cannabinoids from other natural plant materials. The resulting effect of consuming all of these valuable compounds together is known as “the entourage effect”. Essentially, the cannabis compounds work better together, resulting in a full-spectrum of effects. The entourage effect unleashes the full potential of the plant, engaging the ECS to its fullest potential.
Most Common Cannabinoids
Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC)
THC is the most prominent cannabinoid found in cannabis. It’s acronym is synonymous with getting stoned, and it has left its mark throughout pop culture for decades. While delta-9 THC is the cannabinoid we are most familiar with, there are other THC analogs identified as delta-8 THC, THCA, THCP, and THCV.
Effects: THC is well-known to alleviate pain and help with other physical conditions like insomnia, nausea, anxiety, depression, glaucoma, cancer, muscle spasms, and more. While its medicinal value should be undisputed, THC also boasts plenty of fun, recreational benefits like happiness, euphoria, creating thinking, bliss, and enhanced sexual desire.
Legality: THC is a federally illegal Schedule 1 drug. However, THC and products containing THC are legal in states with an approved and regulated medical marijuana or recreational adult-use cannabis program. Currently, over 80% of the U.S. has some kind of legal, medical, or decriminalized laws in place.
Common Products: These days, THC is found in just about everything one can consume. The most common are raw flower or joints, edibles, topicals, beverages, capsules, tinctures, and extracts. However, in some sophisticated dispensaries, you will find THC-infused sublingual strips, transdermal patches, chewing gum, cooking oil, hot sauce, toothpaste, personal lubricant, and suppositories.
The second most popular cannabinoid is CBD. Over the last decade CBD has risen in popularity, although it really took off with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. This important piece of legislation legalized the growth of industrial hemp throughout the United States, opening up the market to U.S. grown and made hemp products like textiles, paper, food, and medicine. Hemp has the potential to be one of the most useful agricultural crops in the world.
Effects: CBD offers therapeutic benefits ranging from promoting deeper sleep to decreasing inflammation. It is also a natural remedy for reducing anxiety and alleviating symptoms of depression. CBD is non-psychoactive and will not cause you to get high, although a quality product should produce noticeable effects. This can include pain relief and alterations to mood.
Legality: CBD products are legal for use and sale nationwide. There is one caveat – all hemp-derived CBD products must contain less than 0.3% THC per total volume to maintain regulatory compliance. Any CBD product obtained from marijuana must abide by the rules governing THC products within the state it was produced. Additionally, some states have limitations around what kind of CBD can be sold. For example, some states may prohibit CBD-infused gummies, or require FDA approval first.
Common Products: Most popularly, CBD-rich hemp products are found in body care products, supplements, and edibles. There are many companies selling and marketing hemp joints for people that enjoy smoking without the high. CBD tinctures are widely marketed to a large audience, including use for children and pets. Presently, it is not uncommon to find CBD in deodorant, skin care products, soaking salts, recovery drinks, and vape cartridges.
Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8 THC)
Delta-8 is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in hemp and marijuana. In fact, as Delta-9 THC degrades, it breaks down into Delta-8. However, it is still only found in trace amounts so most products are made by converting CBD to Delta-8 through isomerization.
Effects: Popularly referred to as “weed light,” Delta-8 mimics the effects of Delta-9, but to a lesser degree. Many users report feelings of euphoria, with a mild, relaxing body high. Delta-8 is preferred to those who find the effects of traditional THC to be overwhelming.
Legality: If the Delta-8 came from a hemp plant, then it is legal so long as it contains less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC. However, if the Delta-8 is a derivative of marijuana, then it must adhere to rules and regulations of the state in which it was grown. Falling under similar guidelines to CBD, there are some states with limitations around its legality.
Common Products: Delta-8 is available in flower, vape pens, extracts, edibles, tinctures, and beverages. With so much recent press, more and more brands are getting into the Delta-8 business.
Delta-10 Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-10 THC)
Delta-10 is a minor cannabinoid found in trace amounts in both hemp and marijuana. It is very similar to Delta-8 in its production process, and is most often made from CBD. Delta-10 is considered an analog of Delta-9.
Effects: Delta-10 is very mild in comparison to Delta-9. Compared to Delta-8, Delta-10 is like the sativa to Delta-8’s indica. Users report a slight boost in energy, an improvement in mood and mental health without a heavy sedation.
Legality: When Delta-10 is made from CBD from a hemp plant, then Delta-10 is legal so long as the product contains less than 0.3% THC. However, if the Delta-8 is a derivative of marijuana, then it must adhere to rules and regulations of the state in which it was grown. Falling under similar guidelines to CBD, there are some states with limitations around its legality.
Common Products: Delta-10 is newer to the cannabis industry, and will likely be found in many more varieties over time. As of now, there are plenty of Delta-10 vape pens, extracts, and edibles.
Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)
CBDA is mostly found in the live cannabis plant. When the plant is harvested, the CBDA converts to CBD as it dries, cures, and is processed. During this process, the CBDA is almost completely transformed, leaving little behind. However, there are still trace amounts found in raw oil and extracts.
Effects: Much like CBD, CBDA is not psychoactive and it will not get you high. Some people prefer a raw form of CBD and choose CBDA because of its higher affinity rate. It is up to 1000 times more potent than CBD. Typical effects include improved alertness, relief from anxiety, stress, insomnia, and pain.
Legality: CBDA falls under the same legality as CBD. As long as it is derived from hemp and contains less that 0.3% THC, it is legal in states where CBD is allowed.
Common Products: Although CBD products are more widely available, you can find CBDA products in the form of oils, tinctures, soft gels, topicals, and vape cartridges.
CBDV is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in CBD-dominant strains. It is currently being studied for its potential to treat autism spectrum disorder, as well as reduce seizures.
Effects: CBDV is non-psychoactive and will not produce a “high”. Instead, CBDV behaves much like CBD in its therapeutic properties. Stopping or reducing seizures is one of the primary reasons people opt for CBDV.
Legality: CBDV is regulated like CBD when protected under the Farm Bill. The final product must contain less than 0.3% THC.
Common Products: Fast-acting products like tinctures are an optimal way to obtain quick results from CBDV. Gummies and vape pens are another popular format.
Cannabichromenic acid (CBCA)
CBCA is the precursor to CBC and one of the three cannabinoids that comes from the mother cannabinoid, CBGA. It is naturally present in the plant in very small quantities and emerges as the plant reaches full maturity.
Effects: CBCA is non-intoxicating, though its specific uses are not yet well understood because this cannabinoid is not widely used. Rather, CBC is more often sought out.
Legality: Assuming CBCA is derived from hemp, it is legal under the Farm Bill so long as it contains no more than 0.3% THC.
Common Products: Because CBCA is not widely used, there are not many products available to purchase. However, the best way to consume CBCA is through the live, raw hemp plant in juice or capsule form.
When THC is exposed to light and heat, CBN is formed. Environmental factors oxidize the THC molecules and they slowly degrade into CBN. If you have any old weed around the house, it’s likely got a lot more CBN than it did when you first obtained it. Fortunately, this means that making CBN is easy to do, which is convenient because the market does not offer many products high in CBN just yet.
Effects: CBN doesn’t do much on its own. To feel its effects, it must be consumed in conjunction with THC. This is a great example of the entourage effect in action because CBN is responsible for about 10% of the high associated with THC.
Legality: If the CBN is from oxidative stress to THC, then it legally falls under the same status as THC. Yet, if the CBN is from a hemp plant, then it falls under the same legal guidelines as CBD. Currently, most CBN is from marijuana, in which case it is legal only in states with a recreational or adult-use marijuana program.
Common Products: Pure or highly concentrated CBN products are hard to come by. However, there are some brands that carry high CBN oil and soft gels. The easiest way to obtain the benefits of CBN is to expose cannabis flower to sunlight and oxygen before consuming to boost the natural levels.
CBG is often considered to be the “stem cell cannabinoid” because its acidic form, CBGA, is the mother of many other popular cannabinoids. When CBGA is heated, it breaks down into THC, CBD, CBC, and CBG. Because of this degradation process, it’s very difficult to find a pure CBG product.
Effects: CBG is non-psychoactive, but it does relax the body and mind and users report a mood boost accompanied by slight euphoria.
Legality: So long as the final CBG product does not contain more than 0.3% THC, it is considered legal under the Farm Bill.
Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA)
CBGA is often called the mother of all cannabinoids. Many cannabinoids have a precursor before they reach their final state, and CBGA is the precursor to the precursor. Consider CBD. Before it becomes CBD, it begins as CBDA. And before it was CBDA, it was CBGA.
CBGA also converts into THCA and CBCA. Any remaining CBGA will result in CBG after decarboxylation.
Effects: CBGA is non-psychoactive, but has many therapeutic properties. Studies show that it may be beneficial in stopping seizures, acting as an anti-inflammatory, and can be used as an analgesic. It may also stop the growth of cancerous lesions and polyps.
Legality: CBGA is protected under the Farm Bill and contains less than 0.3% THC, making it a legal product.
Common Products: Tinctures, capsules, vape pens, and topicals are available with CBGA.
Although CBC is a lesser known cannabinoid, it’s actually the second most prevalent one next to THC. In some plants, CBC can be responsible for up to 64% of the plant’s total cannabinoid profile.
Effects: CBC is non-intoxicating, though it does have similar effects to CBD. It can promote happiness and improve the mood while fighting inflammation and mild pain.
Legality: As with many cannabinoids, this depends on the source. If the CBC is hemp derived, it will fall under the guidelines set forth by each state as mandated through the Farm Bill. If the CBC is from marijuana, it is illegal unless grown, extracted, and sold in a state with a legal cannabis program.
Much like CBN is formed by exposing THC to light and heat, CBL is formed when exposing CBC to those same environmental factors. Although CBL is present in minute quantities, it will be found in higher numbers in older weed.
Effects: Very little is known about CBL because it’s low percentages, so the effects are understudied. Researchers speculate that it may produce similar effects to CBC and CBD, but more research is needed for conclusive evidence.
Legality: Since there are currently no pure CBL products on the market, one can only assume that CBL would follow suit with many other cannabinoids on this list in regards to where it comes from and where it’s being sold, as well as THC percentage in the final product.
Common Products: Currently, there are no pure CBL products on the market, and the best way to experience this cannabinoid is by engaging the entourage effect with a full-spectrum cannabis product or by smoking cannabis that has been exposed to light and heat.
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)
THCA is the precursor acid to THC. When THCA is decarboxylated, it becomes THC. Essentially, when you apply heat to the THCA, such as lighting a bowl, it activates the THC.
Effects: Although related to THC, THCA does not produce any mind-altering effects. Hence the reason one cannot get high from eating raw cannabis. However, studies show that THCA has a handful of medicinal benefits, including as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Legality: THCA is currently not scheduled as a federally illegal substance. However, since it is an analogue of THC, it could potentially be subject to the Federal Analogue Act.
Common Products: Tincture is a popular format for THCA, but it is also found in isolate form to be ingested or dabbed.
THCP is found in small amounts in the trichomes of the cannabis plant. Research indicates that it is 33x more active when binding to CB1 receptors than delta-9 THC. Because it is naturally occurring, an extreme high could be from strains with naturally higher levels of THCP consumed in conjunction with THC.
Effects: Users can expect to feel similar effects to THC, but amplified. If used for pain management for example, two to three hits of THCP may be enough to cause extreme drowsiness. On the other hand, it could also result in an intense euphoric state.
Legality: Like most cannabinoids, source of origin matters. If consuming THCP from marijuana, local state laws apply. If consuming THCP from hemp, the product falls into the same legal gray area as products like Delta-8 and THCA.
Common Products: Tinctures, vape pens, and gummies are the most popular THCP products on the market.
THCV is one of several THC analogs. Although it may not be as well known as THC or CBD, THCV is a heavily studied cannabinoid dating back to its discovery in the 1970s. Structurally, it is similar to THC, but it’s only psychoactive in high doses.
Effects: In low doses, THCV doesn’t offer a very noticeable effect. However, if you smoke a strain high in THCV, the resulting high is energetic and clear-headed but the effects do not last as long as THC. The effects are pleasant, though short lived. Users report that THCV suppresses appetite, which tends to be the opposite of THC.
Legality: THCV is not technically a federally illegal drug, however, it’s safe to assume that if it comes from marijuana, it must follow marijuana rules as governed state by state.
Common Products: There are several different cannabis strains that are high in THCV, including Pineapple Purps, Ace of Spades, Jack the Ripper, Durban Poison, and Willie Nelson. THCV products are becoming more common and found in the form of gummies, tinctures, mints, vape pens, and sublingual strips.
HHC is a naturally occurring substance found in the seeds and pollen of the hemp plant. It is a hydrogenated form of THC, made by breaking the double bonds in the THC and replacing them with hydrogen atoms. It has a longer shelf life than THC, and will maintain its potency despite improper storage.
Effects: HHC binds to the CB1 receptor, but not as strongly as THC. When smoked, vaped, or ingested, HHC will produce intoxicating effects, though to a lesser degree than it’s THC counterpart.
Legality: HHC falls into a legal gray area, like many other cannabinoids derived from hemp. So long as the product contains less than 0.3% THC, it is legally protected under the Farm Bill.
Common Products: HHC is available in the form of vape pens, edibles, and tinctures. As this cannabinoid gains popularity, it will likely be found in a variety of formats.
Hemp and Marijuana Cannabinoid FAQs:
What is the difference between cannabinoids and cannabidiol?
Cannabidiol, more popularly known as CBD, is one of many different cannabinoids found in weed. There are many different cannabinoids found in marijuana, and CBD is but one of over 100, including Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabinol (CBN), which are utilized primarily for therapeutic purposes, such as pain and anxiety relief.
What Cannabinoids Are in CBD Oil?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the primary component of CBD oil, naturally. However, the presence of other cannabinoids depends on which type of oil you have. Full-spectrum oil utilizes all naturally occurring cannabinoids in marijuana, including THC. Broad-spectrum, meanwhile, features almost all cannabinoids but without THC. CBD isolate features a narrow range of cannabinoids, primarily CBD into a carrier oil.
How Many Cannabinoids Are in a Hemp Plant?
Hemp and marijuana are both classified as cannabis and largely possess the same cannabinoids, with over 100 cannabinoids found in hemp. The primary difference between hemp and marijuana is that there is a much higher concentration of CBD and very minimal THC in hemp, eliminating the psychoactive properties.