Cannabinoids are the essential compounds that give cannabis its treasured recreational and medical properties. But what are the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis, and just how do they affect our bodies?
The term cannabinoids refers to a group of over 100+ different chemical compounds that interact with cannabinoid receptors. They are what give cannabis its distinct medicinal and recreational properties.
When we consume cannabis, either by smoking, vaping, or ingesting it, the cannabinoids in the plant activate specific receptors (known as CB1 and CB2) around our brain and body.
These receptors form part of our endocannabinoid system (or ECS), which is responsible for naturally producing endocannabinoids within our body (such as anandamide, for example) as well as mediating a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is arguably the most well-known of all the cannabinoids found in cannabis.
It is a psychoactive compound and is responsible for producing the signature “high” that recreational users treasure. When absorbed by our bodies, THC generally produces strong feelings of elation, relaxation, euphoria, sedation and more.
New research also shows that THC may have a variety of medicinal uses as well. For example, studies suggest that THC may help in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), glaucoma, insomnia, as well as chronic pain associated with conditions like fibromyalgia.
One of the biggest concerns about using THC in medicine, however, is the fact that it can produce contrasting effects in people; while it might make one person feel sleepy and relaxed, it might leave another feeling restless, nervous, or anxious.
Research isn’t quite clear on what causes these imbalances; they could be caused by the individual chemistry of our bodies or different concentrations of THC.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid that has become famous because of its medical properties.
Cannabidiol is usually found in higher concentrations in hemp as well as a handful of medical strains which have been purposefully bred to contain high concentrations of CBD.
Most of the strains grown for recreational use, however, tend to be rich in THC and contain only small amounts of CBD.
Most of the hype surrounding medical marijuana is centred on CBD. However, as research into cannabis grows, some of the other cannabinoids listed below are also getting their fair share of attention.
CBD has been found to be effective in the treatment of a wide variety of other conditions, including anxiety, nausea, and chronic neuropathic and inflammatory pain caused by conditions like muscular dystrophy or arthritis, respectively.
CBD, unlike THC, is a non-psychoactive compound, meaning it doesn't produce a psychoactive high like THC.
THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin, is a cannabinoid that only recently began making headlines. It is a psychoactive compound known to produce a clear, stimulating cerebral high.
It is a psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants, sometimes in very large amounts; some cannabis varieties from Asian regions (such as China, India, Nepal, Thailand, Afghanistan, and Pakistan), for example, have been found to have a THCV concentrations of over 50%.
While not as much research has gone into THCV as other cannabinoids (such as CBD and THC), studies suggest it has significant medical potential.
Research shows, for example, that it may help to regulate blood-sugar levels and therefore help in the treatment of diabetes, as well as treat anxiety, and improve motor control and reduce tremors in Alzheimer's patients.
Surprisingly, THCV works as an appetite suppressant, leading some experts to suggest that it may help with weight loss. Finally, THCV has also been shown to stimulate bone growth and therefore may aid in the treatment of osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions.
Unfortunately, many of the strains available for recreational and medical use only contain trace amounts of THCV, making it hard for people to really single out the benefits or effects of this cannabinoid.
CBDV, or cannabidivarin, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Like THCV, it has been found in higher concentrations in wild cannabis indica varieties growing in India and Nepal.
Unlike THC and CBD, CBDV gets relatively little attention. However, it has been shown to have clear anticonvulsant effects.
2013 research from the University of Reading (UK) and the research institute at Otsuka Pharmaceutical (Japan), for example, showed that CBDV significantly reduced induced seizures in rats.
In a paper published in the September 2012 issue of The British Journal of Pharmacology, CBDV strongly suppressed seizures in six different experimental models commonly used in epilepsy treatment.
CBG, or cannabigerol, is a non-psychoactive compound, even when taken in high doses. It is a non-acidic form of CBGA, the first cannabinoid to form in the plant while it grows.
Scientists first discovered cannabigerol in 1964. Like many other cannabinoids, CBG has been found to have promising medical potential.
In January 2015, for example, researchers at the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Madrid found that CBG may be beneficial in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease.
Unfortunately, CBG is also found in only trace amounts in modern strains (with concentrations of roughly 1% or lower). However, more research into cannabis and it’s various compounds might change that.
Last on our list of the most important cannabinoids in cannabis is CBC, or cannabichromene. While it is another one of those cannabinoids that's often outshadowed by CBD and THC, it is a relatively well-researched compound.
CBC is the second most concentrated compound found in cannabis after THC. Like CBD and THC, it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and may be beneficial in the treatment of pain associated with a variety of conditions.
Similar to CBD and THC, CBC has also been found to have antidepressant effects. Studies have also shown that it has distinct antiviral and antifungal properties.
However, what really makes this cannabinoid stand out from the rest is its ability to promote neurogenesis (the growth and development of nervous tissue in the brain).