Cannabis has been used in medicine for at least two thousand years. What makes it so effective in treating hundreds of medical conditions is a special class of compounds that it contains, known as cannabinoids. You’ve probably heard of at least two of them: CBD and THC. These are the ones that have been the most heavily researched, and which we believe to be the most therapeutic. But did you know that other molecules found in cannabis, like CBC or CBGV also had a lot of potential in treating health conditions? We put together this simple guide to cannabinoids to help you understand how they work and what they can be good for.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are a class of molecular compounds. We distinguish between two types of cannabinoids: endocannabinoids, and phytocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are molecules produced by the body. They serve to transmit information, and they affect the way that our endocannabinoid system works.
Phytocannabinoids are molecules found in the cannabis plant. When they enter our bodies, they work in the same way as endocannabinoids. This means they’re also able to impact the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
So what is that system? The ECS is a biological system that runs through the whole body. It’s a huge network that transmits information about some key functions of the body such as pain management, appetite, inflammation, and mood regulation.
When phytocannabinoids enter our body, they can affect the way that this system works, which is why they have a lot of health benefits. By giving a boost to our ECS, cannabinoids can help us feel better and live healthier.
However, their benefits don’t stop there. Phytocannabinoids also affect other biological systems, and it would be hard to list all of their benefits. We’ve put together the list below to give you an overview of the best known cannabinoids, and what they can do for your body.
The different types of cannabinoids
Let’s get a little scientific. The cannabis plant contains a number of cannabinoid acids. These molecules are found in cannabis, and not in any other plant.
In their normal state, cannabinoid acids can have interesting health properties. For example, they can work as anti bacterials, fight inflammation, and relieve pain. However, none of these molecules have a psychoactive effect. That’s why you could eat a raw marijuana flower and not risk getting even a little bit high.
When you heat these acids up, a molecular reaction occurs. They change from acid chains to non acid molecules. And this has a drastic effect on their properties.
For example, when you heat up the cannabinoid acid THCA, it transforms into THC and becomes psychoactive.
Both cannabinoid acids and non acid cannabinoids can have very positive health properties. More interestingly, we’re now finding that consuming several of them together (as usually happens when you take a cannabis based product) can make them even more effective. This is what we call the entourage effect.
Out of the dozens of cannabinoids found in cannabis, here are the ones we’ve identified, and know the most about:
CBC is not nearly as famous as CBD or THC, but we’ve known about it for over 50 years. Unlike other cannabinoids, CBC doesn’t bind to CB1 receptors. Among other things, this means it’s not a psychoactive substance.
However, CBC has the interesting ability to bind to other receptors outside of the endocannabinoid system. For example, it can bind with vanilloid receptors and the transient receptor potential ankyrin 1. This gives it a few health properties that other cannabinoids may not have.
Effects on physical health
- can fight inflammation
- can slow down tumor growth
- boosts the endocannabinoid anandamide which helps to fight cancer
- blocks osteoarthritis pain
- fights acne
Effects on mental health
- could protect healthy brain function
- has antidepressant properties
CBDA (cannabinoid acid)
CBDA is a cannabinoid acid that you can find in large quantities in CBD high strains of cannabis. When it’s exposed to heat, CBDA becomes CBD.
But even without turning to CBD, CBDA has a few interesting health benefits. For example, it can:
- increase your serotonin levels
- fight nausea
- stop convulsions
- fight inflammation
- inhibit the growth of cancerous cells
CBD stands for cannabidiol. In the world of medical cannabis, it is by far the best known phytocannabinoid compounds. For our bodies to be able to use CBD, it needs to be decarboxylated, meaning that you need to heat the cannabis plant up past a certain point.
If you want to find out more about the physical and mental health benefits of CBD, we invite you to check out this complete guide.
Some of the most prominent benefits of CBD for physical health are:
- lowering pain
- lowering inflammation
- treating Chron’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease
- preventing seizures
It also has a lot of benefits on mental health, including:
- antidepressant properties
- the ability to lower anxiety
- helping people with PTSD
- preventing psychosis
- facilitating sleep
CBGA (cannabinoid acid)
CBGA is a cannabinoid acid found in the cannabis plant before it’s heated up. Once it’s burnt, this acid turns into THC, CBD, or CBC.
But in its natural state, CBGA already has a lot of health benefits. Here are a few of them:
Effects on physical health:
- helps to reduce oxidative stress, which could lower odds of developing heart disease
- reduces inflammation
- kills bacteria
- kills fungus
- inhibits cell growth to prevent cancer
- promotes bone growth
CBG (non acid cannabinoid)
CBG stands for cannabigerol. It’s a cannabinoid that shows a lot of potential in terms of its health benefits. But unfortunately, most strains of cannabis grown today only contain very low levels of it.
This is a shame considering CBG has shown its usefulness in:
- reducing inflammation, particularly in the case of inflammatory bowel disease
- treating glaucoma
- protect from nerve cell degeneration
- inhibit cancer growth
- lower pain
- kill bacteria
- stimulate appetite
- treat depression
- lower muscle contractions
THCA (cannabinoid acid)
THCA is a molecule that’s very similar to THC, with the difference that it doesn’t cause a high. When you burn it, THCA can convert to THC.
It has a few benefits for mental and physical health, including:
- reducing inflammation
- preventing seizures
- preventing cancer
- stopping nausea
- working as a neuroprotector
THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol. It’s a pretty famous phytocannabinoid, well known for creating a “high”. However, there’s a lot more to THC than its psychoactive effects. When used in medicine, THC can have a lot of benefits for many medical conditions. For example, it can help with:
- appetite loss
For more information on the effects of THC and how they differ from those of CBD, you can check out our article on the difference between CBD and THC.
THCV is a phytocannabinoid compound, also known as tetrahydrocannabivarin. It has a very similar structure to THC and also has psychoactive properties. That being said, some of its effects on physical and mental health are a bit different from those of THC.
For example, while THC stimulates appetite, THCV can suppress it. And while large doses of THC can create panic and anxiety, THCV is actually very effective in reducing panic attacks and anxiety attacks.
Some other benefits of THCV include:
- regulating blood sugar levels
- stimulating bone growth
- protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s disease
What is the legal status of cannabinoids?
In many countries, the legal status of cannabis is ambiguous. This is due partly to the fact that this plant contains so many different cannabinoids, all of which have different effects. As a result, THC is banned in a lot of countries because it’s the cannabinoid that makes marijuana a “recreational drug”. On the other hand, more and more countries allow CBD, which is not psychoactive and can treat many health conditions.
It’s harder to find information on the legal status of other cannabinoids like CBG or CBDA. In fact, most countries don’t have an official policy regarding that topic.
If you want to find out whether CBD is legal in your country, you can read our complete guide here:
And if you’re curious about other cannabinoids, we encourage you to research what types of products are legal in your country. If only pure CBD isolate is legal, then other cannabinoids are probably illegal. If your country has legalized full spectrum CBD oil or even medical cannabis, then those other cannabinoids will be legal and easier to access.
The cannabis plant has so many health benefits that they can be hard to count. Most of them derive from the phytocannabinoid compounds that it contains. But it’s not just about THC or CBD: there are dozens more cannabinoids with great benefits for the body and mind. We hope that our guide to cannabinoid compounds has helped you form a better picture of what you’ll find in cannabis, and what these molecules can be helpful for. And remember to check in with the scientific research every once in a while: we’re finding more and more information on the uses of different cannabinoids every day!