A Quick and Easy Guide to the Most Important Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are the compounds within cannabis that are totally unique to cannabis; they are not found anywhere else in nature, not even in other plants. While most people are passingly familiar with the two most famous cannabinoids, THC and CBD, few realize that scientists have discovered a total of 113 unique compounds in the cannabis plant. Many of these other cannabinoids aren’t well-researched and likely don’t do much of anything, but some do have physiological or psychological effects on cannabis users.

Thus, without further ado, here’s a quick guide to the handful of cannabinoids that seem to make the most impact:


Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is easily the best-known cannabinoid of the bunch — and that isn’t because it is the most plentiful. THC is the cannabinoid primarily responsible for cannabis’s psychoactive effects; the compound binds directly to receptors within the brain to alter neurological function in a variety of ways. In addition to making users high, THC also has the effect of eliminating nausea and reducing pain, which makes it critical in many medical applications, particularly in cancer, AIDS and anorexia.


The second-most abundant cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD) is gaining popularity for its use as a cure-all. In comparing CBD vs. THC, it is easiest to point out that CBD does not cause psychoactive effects — perhaps because CBD does not seem to bind to receptors in the brain or body. Instead, CBD influences the body to produce more chemicals that promote comfort and healing, resulting in experiences like reduced pain and inflammation and reduced anxiety. The full effects of CBD are yet to be understood, but research has found promising applications for the compound, to include epilepsy treatment and perhaps the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.


Cannabinol (CBN) is created when THC degrades, which can occur slowly over time or quickly if THC is subjected to higher temperatures. In a fresh batch of bud, there is remarkably little CBN. CBN can have a minor psychoactive effect, but this primarily manifests as a sedative effect, helping users feel calmer and more relaxed. If a particular strain is a bit too potent for a user, that user could let more THC degrade into CBN to gain a more pleasant high.


Another lesser-known cannabinoid, cannabigerol (CBG) is attracting more attention for its potential as another medically significant compound. Like CBD, CBG is non-psychoactive, and it could be integral in treatment of conditions like glaucoma, tumor growth, Crohn’s and IBS. Unfortunately, this cannabinoid is present in minute amounts in most cannabis strains, which makes it much more difficult to study.


Cannabichromene (CBC) is another non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is present in small amounts in cannabis, though research has found it to be most plentiful in the tropical sativa strains. Like CBD and CBG, CBC seems to have potential medical applications, particularly in the form of improving brain health and development. Researchers believe that CBD plays a part in neurogenesis (the creation of neurons) and neuroplasticity (the reorganization of neurons).


The structure of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) looks remarkably similar to THC — but interestingly, it seems to produce near-opposite effects. THCV also binds directly to receptors in the brain and body, but it seems to reduce the likelihood of paranoia and panic, suppress appetite and promote bone growth. THCV is only present in some cannabis strains, and as yet there seems to be limited research interest in the compound.


Cannabidivarin (CBDV), like THCV, is similar to CBD but has a slightly different molecular structure. Also like THCV, the rarity of CBDV makes it more difficult to study, but researchers have already determined that CBDV could be useful in the treatment of epilepsy and other neurological disorders, like Rett syndrome and muscular dystrophy. Though CBDV likely won’t become the next health craze, it could provide promising discoveries in the coming years.

Researchers are working hard to understand more about cannabinoids, not just because more people than ever have access to cannabis but rather because cannabinoids could prove exceedingly beneficial to modern medicine. The more everyone knows about the compounds in bud, the better users and non-users will feel about permitting cannabis consumption across the country. 

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