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Guide to Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids: their nature, effects and diversity

Cannabis has been around for thousands of years, but we are only just beginning to understand the many chemical compounds that make up this versatile plant. While you've probably heard of THC and CBD, you may not be aware of the dozens of other cannabinoids that work together to affect the body in various ways.

In this guide to cannabinoids, we discuss:

  • What are cannabinoids?
  • How do cannabinoids work in the body?
  • How many cannabinoids are there?

What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring molecules that are specifically produced by the cannabis plant, including THCV, CBDA, CBGA, and dozens more. These cannabinoids interact with the body's natural endocannabinoid system, a chemically-based biological system that regulates a variety of functions in the body. The range of feelings and experiences that one gets from consuming cannabis - euphoria, calm, etc. - are the result of cannabinoids binding to the human endocannabinoid system.

How do cannabinoids work in the body?

Cannabinoids interact with our body's endocannabinoid system as well as with non-endocannabinoid receptors and ion channels to produce various effects that can be perceived as either beneficial or detrimental. For example, a small amount of THC can reduce nausea and vomiting, but too much THC can cause cannabis hyperemesis syndrome or recurrent episodes of nausea and vomiting.

Endocannabinoid deficiency is another potential area of discovery. According to science, there are cases where the body is unable to produce enough endocannabinoids to maintain normal function, which can lead to negative effects on the body. In fact, it has also been suggested that an endocannabinoid deficiency could contribute to migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, some mental disorders, and more.

Below are some of the most common cannabinoids that may be found in cannabis products on the market:

  • THC (Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol): THC is one of the more well-known cannabinoids due to the notoriety of its intoxicating effects. How does THC achieve this? It binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, making it the strongest in the series.
  • CBD (Cannabidiol): is perhaps the second most important cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, but it's used in everything from dietary supplements to smoothies. In fact, CBD is approved as an active ingredient for the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy (Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome), but it is currently not approved as a food additive.
  • THCv (Tetrahydrocannabivarin): THCV is a psychoactive cannabinoid, but probably only at high doses. It has also been suggested that THCv reduces appetite by blocking one of the cannabinoid receptors.
  • CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid): CBD is the precursor to CBD. This cannabinoid is not intoxicating and is currently being researched for a variety of applications.
  • CBC (Cannabichromene): CBC is the second most common cannabinoid (after THC) and does not have an intoxicating effect. What sets this compound apart from the others is that it doesn't interact directly with CB1 receptors. Instead, it binds to the less well-known TPRV1 and TRPA1 receptors within the endocannabinoid system.
  • CBG (Cannabigerol): CBG is present in the cannabis plant only in trace amounts, but its precursor is CBGA, the foundational molecule for all other cannabinoids. A non-intoxicating compound that directly binds. Besides the CB1 and CB2 receptors, we still don't know much about CBG and its potential.
  • CBN (Cannabinol): CBN can produce an intoxicating response, but only slightly compared to THC. This is because CBN is actually THC that has broken down after prolonged exposure to heat and oxygen. For this reason, older marijuana can lose potency as THC decreases and CBN increases.

Cannabinoids & Cannabis