What Are Cannabinoids?

Photo: Marcia Gagliardi. © mymilligram. Plushberry grown by  @cannabisfuturist  at  Tualto Farms  in Washington State.

Photo: Marcia Gagliardi. © mymilligram. Plushberry grown by @cannabisfuturist at Tualto Farms in Washington State.


Okay, it’s time to get a little geeky because you’re only going to get more out of cannabis the more you understand. Let’s talk cannabinoids! First, how do you say it? Say: kuh-nab-uh-noid. Great, you got this—moving on!


The cannabis plant reportedly has upwards of 100 cannabinoids (we don’t even have an exact count yet!), which are compounds secreted by the plant and can have different effects on our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS)—I’ll be writing about the ECS soon, but for now, hop over to Leafly for an intro.


Cannabinoids are being isolated, researched, and closely studied—and what we’re seeing so far is very exciting, hopeful, and incredibly fascinating, but we still have a lot to discover and learn. It’s tough to research cannabis when your federal government has it classified as a Schedule I drug, but fortunately there’s a lot of global research out there already (just search for “cannabinoid” on PubMed!). And Leafly has a handy wheel that shows how different cannabinoids may help with different ailments.


This is a rather simplistic list below, but for the sake of giving you an introductory overview, here are some of the most well-known cannabinoids for you to familiarize yourself with, plus a few up-and-comers too:


Delta-9 THC is the most famous cannabinoid—it’s our good friend THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), known for its psychoactive effects. Medically, it can help to reduce nausea/vomiting and stimulate appetite (a godsend for cancer as well as AIDS patients, which is what initiated the medical marijuana movement in CA), help with sleep, relieve anxiety, and mitigate pain (especially for patients with multiple sclerosis).


The hottest cannabinoid right now is CBD (cannabidiol), which we are loving for its many therapeutic properties, and since it’s non-psychoactive, more people can access it comfortably. CBD is known for easing mental and physical stress and anxiety, as well as reducing inflammation in the body. It may help the body return to a state of homeostasis and balance (both in the body and overall mood). CBD is also shown to be helping with serious medical conditions, like pediatric epilepsy/seizures, Chron’s, and rheumatoid arthritis. Do a deep dive on CBD on Project CBD.

Interestingly, some cannabis strains feature high-CBD levels (like ACDC), and CBD acts like a natural damper to the plant’s psychoactive THC properties, keeping it in check. You can do the same thing in real time—if you consume too much THC, having CBD can help dial it down.


Some other cannabinoids you’ll see are:


THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)

There’s a lot of research being done about this pain-killing and anti-inflammatory cannabinoid. It’s non-psychoactive and known for being especially present in raw forms of cannabis (like juice). When THCA is heated, it converts into the psychoactive THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol), a process called decarboxylation, which is why cannabis is usually smoked. It’s also why you always want to be sure any products you have with THCA don’t get exposed to heat (keep those tinctures in the fridge). Read more on Project CBD.


CBG (cannabigerol)

Another cannabinoid that is non-psychoactive but has very promising medical applications, from treating glaucoma to psoriasis to inflammatory disorders (especially inflammatory bowel disease), and is notably antibacterial. It can also help with insomnia (which is how I like to use it in Level’s CBG Tablingual). Read more on Leafly, and you can geek harder on Honest Marijuana Co.


THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin)

Recently discovered for being effective at suppressing appetite and being energizing, it also acts similarly to CBD and can soften the effects of THC. It also may reduce seizures/convulsions and relieve anxiety.


CBN (cannabinol)

This non-psychoactive cannabinoid is the result of when THC oxidizes (is exposed to oxygen) or UV light. It appears to have sedative properties and could be useful for folks trying to get off sleep aids or who suffer from narcolepsy. (You won’t see it as an ingredient very often, but Kikoko’s Tranquil-Tea for sleep has CBN in it.) Read more in High Times.





Disclaimer: The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product.