Cannabinoids 101: What Are They & How Do They Affect You?
Whether you are new to cannabis or a long-time user, you have likely heard of THC, the compound in marijuana that causes its well-known psychoactive effects. However, you may not know that THC is a cannabinoid and that cannabis contains several other cannabinoids that all work together to produce a variety of benefits.
Understanding a strain’s cannabinoid content can help you better understand its overall effects. This guide will answer all of your cannabinoid-related questions and outline the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are compounds produced by the cannabis plant. They belong to a class of lipophilic molecules that interact with the receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). When cannabinoids bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS, they help the body maintain homeostasis and adequate function related to pain, stress, appetite, metabolism, and cardiovascular function. Although research is still new, there is evidence that cannabinoids have a number of benefits, including reducing inflammation and controlling nausea.
Phytocannabinoids vs. Endocannabinoids
Phytocannabinoids, also known as exogenous cannabinoids, are plant-derived compounds. The cannabis plant produces these compounds in the sticky, crystal trichomes covering the plant.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most well-known and most abundant phytocannabinoids. These compounds bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS, however, THC activates the CB1 cannabinoid receptors, while CBD blocks or slows activation.
Endocannabinoids, also known as endogenous cannabinoids, are produced in the body. The two most common endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Those of these cannabinoids bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
8 Major Cannabinoids
Although some cannabinoids are found in other plants, many cannabinoids are exclusive to cannabis. The exact number of cannabinoids in cannabis is difficult to know. However, we know eight major cannabis cannabinoids—CBG, THC, CBD, CBC, CBGV, THCV, CBDV, and CBCV.
The cannabis plant doesn’t directly produce THC and CBD, the two most common cannabinoids in cannabis. However, it synthesizes different cannabinoid acids which, when activated through decarboxylation (heat), create THC and CBD. THCA, the cannabinoid acid, becomes THC when heated.
Below, we break down each of these cannabinoid acids and explain how they interact with the human body and produce beneficial cannabinoids.
CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
CBGA is a starting compound for the reaction that produces the three major cannabinoid lines, THC, CBD, and CBC. With most strains, CBGA will eventually convert to THC or CBD.
CBGA is made in the trichomes on the leaves and bud of the plant and works to maximize the plant’s energy. Its protective properties may be one reason this cannabinoid acid contains antibacterial properties.
THCA (Δ9 tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
THCA, which becomes THC, is the main psychoactive component in cannabis because it increases blood flow to the CB1 receptor in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. The increase of blood activates the CB1 receptor, triggering the brain’s reward system and feelings of euphoria. The higher the strain’s THC percentage, the more intense the high will be.
CBDA (Cannabidiol acid)
CBDA, which becomes CBD, is the second most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis. It does not produce psychoactive effects, but many people claim to experience a calming, balancing effect when consuming products with high levels of CBD. Although research on the effects of CBD is still new, studies have found that it may help calm the central nervous system and relieve symptoms associated with anxiety.
THC must be present for CBD to bind to the CB1 receptor. CBD can also reduce THC’s ability to activate the CB1, thereby reducing the euphoric effects of THC. Strains with a higher percentage of CBD tend to be less intense. For example, the strain Harlequin has a 5:2 CBD/THC ratio and offers clear-headed focus with a slight euphoric feeling.
CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)
CBCA, which becomes CBCA, is non-intoxicating because it binds poorly to the CB1 receptors in the brain. However, it binds to other receptors, including the vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) and the transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1), which are linked to our perception of pain. When activated, CBC may help the body produce more of its natural endocannabinoids, such as anandamide, which can reduce pain.
CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
CBGVA is one of the precursor acids that produce CBD. It has a similar effect as CBD and a similar working mechanism as CBG (cannabigerol), both of which can produce calming relaxing effects.
Once converted to CBGA, this carboxylic acid can transform into CBDA, THCA, or another precursor cannabinoid acid, depending on the exposed enzymes.
THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)
THCVA, or tetrahydrocannabivarin, is a precursor acid to THCV, the varin form of THC. THCVA starts as CBGVA, which is considered a “stem cell” carboxylic acid for all varin cannabinoids. However, the cannabis plant releases enzymes that convert CBGVA to THCVA. CBGVA can also be converted to THCVA in a lab.
CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)
CBDVA, or cannabidivarin, is a precursor of CBDV, a chemical related to CBD. Although CBDVA is not the same as CBD, they have similar properties, which have sparked new research on the benefits of CBDVA.
CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)
As one of the major cannabinoid compounds, CBCVA interacts with the body’s central nervous system to enhance hormone functionality and regulate appetite, sleep cycles, mood, and energy levels.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can cannabinoids get you high?
THC is the only cannabinoid with known psychoactive effects. However, the presence of other cannabinoids can impact how THC interacts with your body. For example, CBD can block or slow THC’s interactions with the CB1 receptor, thereby reducing its effects.
Are cannabinoids legal?
Cannabinoids that have been taken from the hemp plant are legal and can be found in many different products on the market. However, cannabinoids that have been taken from the cannabis sativa plant are only legal in certain states.
Are cannabinoids terpenes?
No. Cannabinoids and terpenes are two different things. Terpenes are active chemical compounds in cannabis that contain the same aromatic oils found in plants, trees, flowers, and herbs. Terpenes give each strain its unique flavor and aroma. However, like cannabinoids, terpenes are produced by the trichomes, the frosty resin glands on the outside of the bud.
When combined with cannabinoids, terpenes are more effective than in their isolated form. In return, terpenes also make cannabinoids more beneficial because they can modify the rate of absorption, potency, and overall effectiveness of the cannabinoids.
Some terpenes, just as caryophyllene, can also act as a cannabinoid without the aid of another compound.
Are cannabinoids anti-inflammatory?
Some cannabinoids have potent anti-inflammatory properties and have shown promising results when used to treat inflammatory diseases. Although research is ongoing, the FDA has yet to approve any cannabinoid medications to treat inflammation.
What is CBN (Cannabinol)?
CBN may be another cannabinoid you are familiar with. CBN is a broken-down product of THC. When exposed to oxygen, THC gradually breaks down into CBN. Older flower products tend to be higher in CBN as the THC slowly breaks down into CBN.
While CBN is non-intoxicating, some studies suggest that CBN may increase the intoxicating effects of THC.
Ready to Experiment?
Finding your favorite strains is a personal process and can take some time. A strain that gives you energy and focus may cause another person to experience racing thoughts. Therefore, it is best to try out a variety of options before determining your favorites. Luckily, the cannabinoids present in each can help you better understand how they will affect your experience. To experiment with different strains, shop our full line of Canndescent Brands’ products or find them at a dispensary near you.