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Cannabinoids 101 – Let’s Break Them Down

If you’ve ever smoked or purchased weed, you’ve probably paid attention to the level of THC that is labelled on the package you receive. Or you may have noticed CBD products that are displayed to the public both in and out of dispensaries. But what are these exactly? THC and CBD are types of cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant, but they aren’t the only ones. In fact, there are over 100 different cannabinoids that are unique to the plant and help make up the benefits that cannabis provides. Cannabinoids provide relief for an array of symptoms and work within the Endocannabinoid System to activate receptors to help maintain stability in the body. Depending on the levels of cannabinoids in strains, you may feel different effects. What exactly are the most common cannabinoids and what do they do? Let’s break it down.


Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is found in the resin glands in the cannabis plant and is what gives it the psychoactive principles that makes users feel high. How does it do that? THC works by binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors found in our nervous system and our brains. This is a fun way to say that our body allows us to feel high. It stimulates the part of the brain that responds to pleasure. THC has medicinal properties that help those suffering with PTSD, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease and more. You can consume THC in a multitude of ways: smoking, vaping, eating, drinking and more. During your high you’ll probably feel effects like heightened senses, head rush, changes in mood, hunger, elevated heart rate, and a few other minor symptoms. While there isn’t enough concrete evidence to determine if there are any negative long-term side effects, research is being conducted. There is educated speculation that long-term users of THC can have long-term effects such as psychosis for those with a predisposed mental illness like Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder, bronchitis– which is commonly associated with inhaling smoke, and long-term memory impairment. While the research is currently being conducted, there is still a long way to go before finding conclusive evidence.


Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most researched cannabinoid next to THC. CBD provides similar medicinal benefits as THC but unlike THC, CBD does not contain psychoactive principles. CBD binds to the receptors in the endocannabinoid system to help alleviate pain, inflammation, and more. There is currently one FDA approved medication that contains CBD, Epidiolex, which is an anti-seizure medication. All 50 states have legalized CBD derived from hemp plants and since CBD does not contain psychoactive principles, dispensaries are not the only places that sell CBD products: nutrition and supplement stores, whole food stores, and even gas stations sell CBD oils and sprays. Like THC, you can smoke, vape, or ingest CBD. Not only does CBD help relieve physical ailments, it can also help with insomnia and anxiety linked to PTSD. CBD is mostly well-tolerated and there isn’t concrete evidence of severe side effects, but there have been some minor, anecdotal side effects such as dry mouth, drowsiness, and reduced appetite.


Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is the raw form of THC and has no psychoactive principles. The method of turning THCA into THC is called decarboxylation, which is a fancy word for smoking or vaping. Once heat is applied, THCA turns into THC, so the methods of consuming are very different from consuming other cannabinoids. THCA has little binding effects to the CB1 receptors, rather it binds to and activates the PPARy receptors that allows our body to metabolize THCA. THCA’s main medicinal benefits include anti-inflammatory properties and neuroprotective properties. While it is difficult to find, it isn’t impossible as more cultivations are developing new THCA products. The most popular use of THCA is by juicing raw cannabis parts and adding it to smoothies or other beverages. More THCA products will hit the market as more information and research is being released to the public. THCA isn’t a scheduled drug, but it could raise red flags because of its close association to THC.


Cannabinol (CBN) is a non-intoxicating metabolite in THC that can increase its psychoactive effects and is commonly found in older cannabis strains and is one of the rarest cannabinoids in the plant. This cannabinoid is one of the least researched, but there are some potential benefits that have been linked to it through other cannabinoids. These include antibacterial, neuroprotectant, appetite stimulation, and anti-inflammatory properties. The most common misconception of CBN is that it has heavily sedating effects but in reality, strains with high levels of CBN are often older so this effect is caused by the loss of monoterpenes.


Cannabigerol (CBG) is referred to as “the mother of all cannabinoids” because many other cannabinoids are derived from cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), the acidic form of CBG. The cannabis plant produces CBGA and immediately converts into THCA, CBDA or CBG. It is usually found in low doses when combined with THC: the more THC, the less CBG (and CBD), and vice versa. CBG imitates the endocannabinoids that our bodies naturally make. Research may be limited, but there have been studies conducted on rodents that show CBG can help with inflammatory bowel disease, bladder dysfunctions, and appetite stimulation. It is on the rise! Cultivators are experimenting with more genetic cross-breeding of plants to produce more CBG in strains.


Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA) is a lesser known cannabinoid but over time, and as it is exposed to heat, it converts into a better known cannabinoid, CBD. As stated above, CBGA converts to CBDA, which is a very fun way to show how all cannabinoids intertwine to give the cannabis plant all of the benefits it provides. CBDA specifically interacts with and blocks the COX2 enzyme that is associated with inflammation, infections and injuries. CDBA helps to alleviate these symptoms. However, the largest medical benefit CBDA has, is the alleviation of nausea and vomiting. CBDA is usually found in tinctures, topicals, capsules, and like THCA, can be juiced from raw cannabis.


Cannabichromene (CBC) is considered one of the “big six” of cannabinoids that are prominent in medical research. This cannabinoid doesn’t get as much attention as others, but the research is looking optimistic. CBC is another cannabinoid that stems from CBGA, which turns into cannabichromene carboxylic acid (CBCA) and then CBC once it’s exposed to heat and light. Like several other cannabinoids, it is non-intoxicating and works with other cannabinoids to provide health benefits to the body. While other cannabinoids bind to the CB1 receptor in the brain, CBC doesn’t, rather it binds to the vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) and the transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1) which both link to pain perception in the body. When activated, it increases the body’s natural endocannabinoids like anandamide. Because of the way CBC binds with these receptors, it is one of the best cannabinoids for pain alleviation. CBC is also being studied for its positive impact of neural stem progenitor cells that allows for healthy brain function.


Tetrahydrocannabivarian (THCV) is one of the most unique cannabinoids that has been studied. The benefits of THCV are different from CBD and THC and sets it apart from all other cannabinoids. While THC can increase someone’s appetite, THCV suppresses it because it increases satiety. The most recent study found THCV helps to combat obesity in rats and may be able to help combat diabetes. THCV also works with other cannabinoids to help stimulate bone growth. Most strains contain a small amount of THCV, so it’s more difficult to get the desired therapeutic effects. When looking for THCV, look for African sativas like Durban Poison- a strain with high levels of THCV, and ask about parent genetics and lab results.

While cannabinoids play a key role in how cannabis affects us, it’s also important to look at terpenes since they work in unison to create the ‘Entourage Effect’. Each strain has its own unique blend of cannabinoids that can impact your high so ask your Patient Consultant for help to understand which blend may be best for you. You can also ask for test results of strains you’re interested in trying so you can see how the different levels of cannabinoids impact your high.