What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabis plants produce special chemicals called cannabinoid acids. Estimates vary widely on how many cannabinoids are in the plant, but suffice it to say that there are many, and most only show up in trace amounts.
Cannabis plants do not directly create cannabinoids like THC or CBD. Instead, they produce these cannabinoid acids which, when heated, go through a process called decarboxylation to produce cannabinoids.
Cannabinoid acids aren’t going to make you feel high like THC will. But they still have helpful properties that make them useful even before decarboxylation.
The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabinoids from the cannabis plant are similar to the endocannabinoids that our own bodies produce. Endocannabinoids keep our internal systems balanced and improve our immune system. Within our endocannabinoid system, there are two receptors–CB-1 and CB-2.
CB-1 receptors live primarily in our brain and central nervous system, while CB-2 receptors are found throughout the entire body, including the immune system.
These receptors act as landing pads for both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids (the kind that come from plants, like cannabis). When either chemical connects with a receptor, a reaction begins that breaks down the cannabinoids. As they break down, they cause effects we associate with cannabis, whether it be a psychoactive high, euphoria or pain relief to name a few.
Each type of cannabinoid produces its own unique effect, and these can change based on whether the chemical is connected with a CB-1 receptor or a CB-2 receptor.
There are 8 main cannabinoids acids that are found most often and in the greatest quantity in cannabis plants. These are:
CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)
CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)
CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)
CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)
CBGA is the building block upon which the other two primary acids, THCA and CBDA, are made.
After decarboxylation, these acids turn into the following cannabinoids:
What Do Cannabinoids Do?
What exactly do cannabinoids do? When cannabis is heated and consumed, they are the chemicals that make you feel high, relaxed, energized, creative, etc. Of course, the effects depend on the strain, but the cannabinoids are the active ingredient that make these results noticeable.
THC is probably the most famous cannabinoid, even among non-cannabis users. As most people know, it’s the chemical that is responsible for producing a psychoactive high feeling when cannabis is consumed.
However, many people don’t know that THC is the only cannabinoid that will give you this high. It’s also the most abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis, and it binds with the brain’s CB-1 receptors. It can cause euphoria, relaxation, and elation.
THC can help with:
When other cannabinoids interact with THC, they can alter its effects. This is called the Entourage Effect. For instance, when both CBD and THC are present in your endocannabinoid system, CBD can reduce the unwanted effects of THC, like paranoia and memory loss. If there is a 2:1 ratio of CBD to THC, the psychoactive effects of THC may be almost completely halted.
CBN is actually made from THC when it breaks down. As a result, older cannabis flower will have more CBN than new flower, especially if it is exposed to oxygen. When combined with THC, CBN has sedative effects. It may be slightly psychoactive, but much less so than THC.
CBN benefits may also include being:
Good for arthritis
However, more research is needed to determine its effects.
After THC, CBD (cannabidiol) is the most well-known cannabinoid. However, it most respects, it is very different from the psychoactive THC. CBD will not get you high, and it is more likely to bind with the CB-2 receptors than the CB-1 receptors that THC is partial to.
CBD has many medicinal properties, including:
Lowers high blood pressure
CBG (cannabigerol) is a cannabinoid that needs further research, but evidence suggests that it can help patients with glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. It also may prevent tumor growth, and it is non-psychoactive.
Like CBG, CBC (cannabichromene) is non-psychoactive. Research suggests that CBC interacts with THC similar to how CBD does–muting the psychoactive effects. It also seems to have a role in promoting neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, both of which are key to maintaining a healthy, functioning brain. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.