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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.