What Are Cannabinoids and What Do They Do?

  • Cannabinoids are potent chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant
  • Our body also produces its own cannabinoids
  • We have receptors in our nervous system ready to interact with cannabinoids and deliver benefits
  • There are over 140 cannabinoids, but only about 12 are frequently listed on cannabis labels
  • Research indicates cannabinoids can help fight cancer, increase appetite, treat diabetes, and reduce pain, among other benefits

Whether you are just curious about cannabis or have been using it for a long time, you have likely heard of cannabinoids, especially the most popular ones. Still, when you enter a marijuana dispensary and start reading all the labels, you may have many questions: Do I need CBG or CBD? Is full spectrum better than pure CBD? Don’t worry! You have come to the right place.

Cannabinoid research has exploded over the last few years. Studies have linked dozens of relatively unknown cannabinoids with major health benefits like cancer-fighting, enhanced immune responses, and pain relief.

This guide will give you a basic understanding of how cannabinoids work and an overview of the most promising ones for medicinal use. Ready to take your cannabis experience to the next level? Let’s get right to it!

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are natural compounds found in the marijuana plant. They are responsible for the complex and diverse effects of cannabis on humans.

How Many Cannabinoids are There?

Though most people have only heard of major cannabinoids like THC and CBD, there are over 140 different cannabinoids in the marijuana plant.

What Do Cannabinoids Do to the Human Brain and Body?

The effects of cannabis on the human brain and body are the result of cannabinoids’ interaction with our endocannabinoid system.

what are cannabinoids

Endocannabinoid System Basics

The human body has a whole system dedicated to processing endogenous cannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system is made up of a number of receptors that bind to cannabinoids to produce countless health benefits and certain mind-altering effects. Our body actually produces its own set of cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids.

Endogenous Cannabinoids

Unlike phytocannabinoids like THC or CBD, endogenous cannabinoids, also known as endocannabinoids are produced by the human body.

The two main endocannabinoids identified so far are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Anandamide has been found to play a role in regulating mood, pain perception, and appetite. 2-AG is more abundant in the brain than anandamide and has been found to play a role in various physiological processes, including pain, inflammation, and neuroprotection.

Endocannabinoids work by binding to and activating CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoid receptors, similar to the way that phytocannabinoids (such as those found in marijuana) interact with these receptors.

Cannabinoid Receptors

There are different kinds of cannabinoid receptors.

  • Located in the brain, CB1 receptors are involved in triggering psychoactive effects when they come in contact with the most famous cannabinoid, THC.
  • CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are located throughout the human body, notably in immune tissues.

When cannabinoids interact with these receptors, they trigger effects like reduced inflammation and better immune responses.

What Are the Differences Between Phytocannabinoids and Endocannabinoids?

Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids naturally occurring in plants. Endocannabinoids are generated in the human endocannabinoid system. There is also a third type of cannabinoid: synthetic cannabinoids, which were engineered in labs.

The Entourage Effect

The entourage effect refers to the interaction of cannabinoids and terpenes to enhance the therapeutic effects of different cannabinoids. Terpenes are the compounds responsible for the taste and smell of plants. For instance, certain terpenes can enhance the health benefits of CBD, and THC can enhance the beneficial effects of CBD.

So, when people opt for purer forms of CBD to avoid THC’s psychoactive effects, they may miss out on some of the health benefits of cannabis. In fact, many specialists believe full-spectrum CBD is one of the most beneficial cannabis products on the market.

List of Major Cannabinoids and Their Effects

There may be 140+ cannabinoids, and it would take a long time to learn about all of them, but learning about the ones listed below should be enough to inform your decisions about which cannabis products to purchase.

THC Cannabinoid

THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol)

This is the cannabinoid behind the plant’s best-known intoxicating effect. When THC interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in your brain, the result is often increased concentration, euphoria, and pain reduction. Studies have shown that THC can also help treat anxiety, nausea, fibromyalgia, and glaucoma, among other conditions.

THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid)

The acidic form of THC is called THCA. This form of the most famous cannabinoid is not psychoactive. THC is formed through the decarboxylation of THCA. Research has shown that THCA may have the potential as a neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory agent and can also help HIV/AIDS patients.

CBC (Cannabichromene)

CBC is one of the most common non-psychoactive cannabinoids. When it binds to TRPV1 and TRPA1 receptors, our perception of pain is altered. This cannabinoid’s interactions with CB1 are weak, hence its inability to produce mind-altering effects. The research-backed health benefits of CBC may include anticancer, sleep aid, and anti-inflammatory properties.

CBD (Cannabidiol)

The star of medical cannabis use, CBD is an otherwise potent, non-psychoactive cannabinoid. It has been linked to too many health benefits to keep track of. Because it can balance some of the potentially undesirable effects of THC, it is found in many cannabis concentrates.

Research indicates that CBD may be beneficial for patients suffering from epilepsy, chronic pain, appetite loss, cancer, insomnia, Alzheimer’s, and chronic pain, among many other conditions. The scientific evidence is so overwhelming that a product containing CBD has even been approved by the FDA.

CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid)

Cannabinoids can have different forms during the life of the cannabis plant. Before becoming CBD, cannabidiolic acid, also known as CBDA, exists in the plant of the female cannabis plant’s flowers.

Sunlight exposure initiates a process called decarboxylation (loss of one oxygen and two carbon atoms in CBDA’s molecular sequence), by which CBD is formed. Decarboxylation sort of ‘activates’ the cannabinoid, which is then ready to interact with the human endocannabinoid system.

CBG (Cannabigerol)

Like CBD is derived from CBDA, cannabigerol (CBG) is derived from its acidic form, cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), which is the origin of all cannabinoids. Though it has many beneficial effects, CBG is hard to find; most cannabis plants have as little as 1% CBG.

However, cultivators have used genetic engineering to increase the level of CBG in certain cannabis strains. Research indicates that CBG has great anticancer potential, and experts have often described it as “the new CBD.

CBN (Cannabinol)

In a nutshell, CBN is like a toned-down version of THC. Slightly less effective than THC, CBN is formed as plants age, when THC components break down. CBN is only psychoactive in large doses. Studies indicate it may have the potential as a sleep aid as well as neuroprotective properties and for pain relief.


THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin)

Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is another non-psychoactive cannabinoid. It has been linked to appetite suppression and blood sugar level control. For these reasons, it shows great promise as a diabetes treatment.


∆8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8-THC) has become quite popular and can now be found in many cannabis products. An isomer of Delta-9-THC, popularly known as THC, this form of the best-known mind-altering cannabinoid has a curious history. An oversupply of CBD caused producers to look for ways to turn some of it into something more profitable. So, they chemically converted CBD into Δ8-THC.

While Δ9-THC is highly regulated, Δ8-THC is not, so it is advisable to only purchase products containing this compound from highly reliable brands. Delta-8 THC reportedly has antiemetic (anti-nausea and vomiting), anxiolytic, and appetite-stimulating properties, while providing a “more mellow high” than ∆9-THC.

Minor Cannabinoids

The list of minor cannabinoids includes

  • Cannabivarin (CBV)
  • Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
  • Cannabinodiol (CBND)
  • Cannabielsion (CBE)
  • Cannabicyclol (CBL)
  • Cannabitriol (CBT)

These cannabinoids are present in the plant in significantly lower amounts, but researchers are currently beginning to study their benefits and effects. The beauty of it is that when you consume cannabis products, more often than not, you are getting a mix of all these powerful compounds.

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Heather Wilson is a passionate cannabis enthusiast who has dedicated over four years of her life to working as a budtender. With a deep understanding of the difference between marijuana strains, cannabinoids, terpenes, and their effects, she has helped countless customers find the perfect product for their needs.

In addition to her work as a budtender, Heather is also an enthusiastic cook who loves to try new recipes incorporating cannabis. Whether she's whipping up a batch of infused cookies or cooking a delicious meal with cannabis-infused oil, Heather is always eager to explore the culinary possibilities of this versatile plant.

For Heather, cannabis is more than just a recreational substance. She uses it for her health and is an advocate for safe and responsible use. With a strong desire to spread awareness about the benefits of cannabis and fight the stigma that still surrounds marijuana, Heather is a true champion of this misunderstood plant.

Through her work and cooking, Heather is helping to change the conversation around marijuana and show the world that this plant has a lot to offer, both medically and recreationally. Heather joined with Brian to found Concept420 in 2022.

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