Over the years, more and more clinical studies have been done on the effects of marijuana on the body, with specific emphasis put on the potential health benefits of the plant’s natural compounds. Essentially, scientists want to answer the question, “what does each cannabinoid in the marijuana plant do?”
This is a rather complex field of study, and to really understand the cannabinoid profiles and complete biochemistry of the plant, one would have to dedicate themselves to years and years of advanced research.
But fret not! In order to make things a whole lot easier on you, we’ve put together this simple beginner’s guide to all things cannabinoids; what they are, what they do, and the potential health benefits of each!
What Is a Cannabinoid?
Most people may not realize that the cannabis plant holds over 480 natural components, and within this can be found a complex and varying group of molecules known as cannabinoids. There have been around 113 natural cannabinoids discovered thus far, with the most researched and well-known ones of course being THC and CBD.
“There are over 100 identified cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, the most well-known and well-researched being THC and CBD.”
In recent years, though, more and more light has been shed on some of the “lesser known” cannabinoids. These are active compounds just like THC and CBD, and scientists want to know just what effects they may be having on our health.
Following the success of the use of CBD oil for medicinal purposes, it’s only natural that more research should be put into other aspects of the plant in order to see what else it can do!
Where Do Cannabinoids Come From?
There are a lot of compounds that make up the marijuana plant, from terpenes that create the distinctive aroma that people are so familiar with, to chlorophyll, which gives the plant it’s vibrant shades of green.
However, most scientists would agree (from a health perspective at least) that the most important part of the plant is, without question, the cannabinoids. As of now, the majority of all of research done on the marijuana plant has pointed to cannabinoids as being the “root” (no pun intended) of the plant’s vast assortment of health benefits.
Most people are aware that THC gets you high, and they know that CBD can provide a long list of medicinal benefits, but aside from that, very few know anything more about the benefits of the plant’s other cannabinoids — or even how many more there actually are!
To really appreciate the cannabis plant, it’s important to understand the other elements that make up its functional biochemistry. So without further ado, here are the top 10 cannabinoids, from the most famous to the lesser-known compounds, what they do, and how they might benefit our health.
1. THC – Tetrahydrocannabinol
Starting with arguably the most well-known and well-researched cannabinoid of the lot, THC is the psychoactive compound that delivers the “high” that’s so commonly associated with cannabis.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can be found in the female cannabis flower and is the main active compound found in cannabis. THC works by attaching itself to CB1 receptors in the brain, which leads to a release of the chemical dopamine. This is what ultimately leads to alteration in our behavior.
THC can bring about a variety of side effects which can affect things like memory, movement, concentration, and sensory perception – along with many other things.
If used in excess, THC has been known to cause hallucinations, paranoia, and anxiety. However, when used properly, it is unlikely to cause these unpleasant side effects at all.
In fact, it may provide the user with feelings of elation, pain relief, and more often than not, total relaxation. A study done on mice in 2013, for example, revealed that THC could actually improve memory when used in small doses, as both young and old mice appeared to learn faster after being treated with THC.
Cannabinoid overview: THC
- Has been shown to relieve chronic pain and inflammation (THC actually has twenty times the anti-inflammatory strength of aspirin!)
- Reduces nausea and sickness
- Increases appetite
- Useful in helping to treat withdrawal symptoms
- Helps with digestive problems as it works as an anti-spasmodic
- Anti-tumor properties
DID YOU KNOW: THC has 20x the anti-inflammatory strength of aspirin?
2. CBD – Cannabidiol
In recent years, CBD has been thrust into the spotlight due to its numerous medicinal benefits and the fact that it has little to no psychoactive effects. This makes it ideal for daily use, without preventing the normal day-to-day activities of life.
Cannabidiol is now one of the most studied of all the cannabinoids, and has been suggested to lend itself to a wide range of disabilities both physical and mental.
And unlike THC, CBD does not directly activate the CB1 receptors in our brain, meaning that it does not cause intoxicating effects. Instead, it appears to influence the body by increasing levels of naturally produced cannabinoids called endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids – such as Anandamide and 2-AG – are chemicals that the body produces naturally in order to activate receptors in our brain and body.
CBD has also been known to interact with other areas of our brain such as opioid receptors, which are known to regulate pain (this is the part of our brain that prescription drugs are tailored at targeting), and also dopamine receptors, which are a huge part of what controls our behavior!
Cannabinoid overview: CBD
- CBD has been proven to treat chronic pain.
- CBD can be used to relieve symptoms of epilepsy and has been shown to reduce seizures.
- It is commonly used for the treatment of anxiety and depression
- Antipsychotic effects
- Relieves feelings of nausea
- Improves efficiency of the cardiovascular system
DID YOU KNOW: CBD has been shown to have dozens of therapeutic benefits, but does NOT cause any form of psychoactive high?
3. THCV – Tetrahydrocannabivarin
Despite the similar sounding name of this chemical compound, THCV offers very different effects to that of THC. While the two have molecular similarities, the side effects of THCV in some areas are of a completely opposite nature to THC!
Known to be an appetite suppressant, THCV has been popular among individuals who struggle to lose weight. However, this is not a recommended treatment for those who have any sort of eating disorder, or for those who have difficulties eating due to health.
“THCV has been popular among individuals who have struggled to lose weight.”
Numerous studies have been done to provide evidence for the use of cannabis in weight-loss, and in turn, there has also been big promise in regard to its use in the treatment of diabetes, as the two often go hand in hand!
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, for example, revealed that those who smoke cannabis are less likely to be overweight or struggle with their weight.
THCV also has the potential to help anxiety and reduce panic attacks, without having a major impact on the emotions of the user. Unlike most anti-depressant medication, which often comes with massive emotional side effects, THCV offers all the therapeutic benefits without the well-known numbness that’s so often associated with anti-depressant use.
Additionally, given that it has been shown to promote bone growth, it is now being suggested that THCV could be used as a treatment for various bone-related diseases such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
Finally, in addition to all of these things, there is also ongoing research to examine the effects of THCV in the treatment of Alzheimer’s!
Cannabinoid overview: THCV
- While not as thoroughly researched as CBD or THC, this little-known cannabinoid is showing great promise in a range of medicinal areas
- May assist in weight-loss
- Has been used for symptoms relating to diabetes
- May be helpful for those with anxiety disorders or PTSD
- Research is on-going for other potential benefits with neurological disorders
4. CBDV – Cannabidivarin
CBDV is a phytocannabinoid (meaning it occurs naturally within the cannabis plant) that’s being looked at for its potential to treat things such as epilepsy and other neurological conditions.
“CBDV is another non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is being researched for its neurological effects, as well as the potential treatment of epilepsy.”
Similar to CBD, it is entirely non-psychoactive and has been showing potential as a treatment for a wide variety of medical problems. It’s been shown, for example, to decrease the number of seizures among those suffering from epilepsy, and has also boasted anti-inflammatory properties that have the potential to help with the treatment of chronic pain.
Additionally, CBDV has been used to treat not just seizures, but also Crohn’s disease (which affects the digestive system), HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. While studies have thus far predominantly been done on animals, there is much promise when it comes to the therapeutic use of CBDV.
Cannabinoid overview: CBDV
- CBDV contains many similar medicinal benefits to CBD
- Proven in mice studies to stop convulsions
- Works well with epilepsy sufferers, reduces seizures
- Possesses anti-inflammatory properties
- CBDV is non-psychoactive
5. CBG – Cannabigerol
Although the functions of this cannabinoid are not well known, it’s believed that there would be no CBD or THC without it. In fact, it appears that CBG is the monomer -or molecular building block – for all other cannabinoids within the marijuana plant!
DID YOU KNOW: CBG may be the molecular “building-block” for both THC and CBD?”
While the amount of CBG within any given marijuana plant is as little as 1%, it’s presence is necessary in order to produce the other functional cannabinoids that we receive medicinal benefits from. It is possible to find higher levels of CBG in some strains of hemp, and as research continues and breeders enhance different properties of the plant, there is every possibility that we will see (and know) more about CBG in the future.
That being said, CBG also appears to have some health benefits of its own that have been shown to have many different therapeutic effects on things like pain and inflammation.
A study carried out in 2015, for example, showed that CBG could potentially be isolated and used to treat neurological disorders such as Huntington’s disease. During the study, CBG was shown to improve motor skills, reduce inflammation, and improve levels of antioxidants.
Cannabinoid overview: CBG
- As CBG strains become more popular, research will increase to show the range of benefits that this cannabinoid has to offer
- CBG has been shown to help with neurological disorders
- CBG has the potential to help with skin disorders like psoriasis
- CBG has antifungal effects
- Provides a range of therapeutic effects
6. CBC – Cannabichromene
Despite being the second most prevalent cannabinoid in a large number of marijuana strains, CBC is widely unknown to a lot of users!
Not only does CBC cause zero psychoactive effects (making it ideal for those who seek medicinal benefits without the “high”), but it has also been shown to provide a range of impressive health benefits including pain relief, antifungal properties, and even antidepressant capabilities.
There have been a variety of studies done on the potential health benefits of CBC, and it’s been shown to have a fairly significant entourage effect, which means that, in addition to working independently, it can also work well with other cannabinoids.
While CBC does not bind to the brain’s CB1 receptors, it does appear to work with other receptors throughout the body, including those that release endocannabinoids (like anandamide). Naturally, this lends itself to an ability to provide pain relief!
In fact, a study published in 2010 via the journal Drug Alcohol Depend showed that the use of CBC had significant inflammatory effects on mice, making it promising for future use in treating a variety of diseases.
Cannabinoid overview: CBC
- CBC was discovered over 50 years ago, and is considered to be one of the top cannabinoids for medicinal use
- CBC has been shown to block pain and inflammation in mice
- CBC works well when combined with other cannabinoids
- Promotes anandamide release in the body, which has been shown to fight against breast cancer
7. CBN – Cannabinol
Unlike the cannabinoids mentioned so far, CBN is not a compound that’s naturally produced within the marijuana plant. Instead, CBN is the natural result of THC that has been left exposed to heat or light for a long time, or that has simply been left to go stale. During this period of exposure, THC molecularly “breaks down” and becomes CBN.
DID YOU KNOW: CBN is not produced naturally in the cannabis plant, but is rather the result of the breakdown of THCA over time?
Like THC, cannabinol is known for its ability to work as a sedative, therefore making it popular among those who suffer from insomnia. Other than providing a good night sleep, though, CBN has also been showcased in several studies to manipulate and work on other areas of the body.
A study done in 2002, for instance, found that using CBN and THC together could dramatically improve pain levels, while other research has shown CBN to display both anticonvulsant and antiemetic properties (albeit not quite as powerful than those found in CBD).
Cannabinoid overview: CBN
- CBN can help with a massive list of issues including appetite, sleep, psoriasis and pain.
- CBN is mostly non-psychoactive
- Research has shown that just 5mg of CBN is equivalent to a massive 10mg dose of diazepam!
8. THCA – Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid
THCA is the natural cannabis compound found in raw marijuana plants (i.e. prior to decarboxylation into THC), though unlike the latter, it is a non-psychoactive compound. Unfortunately, THCA has had very little research done on its effects on the body, despite it being so closely linked with THC.
One study published in 2013, however, did show THCA to be an effective antiemetic in rats, thus suggesting that it could be an appropriate treatment for sickness and vomiting being that it doesn’t produce a feeling of being “high”.
And lastly, THCA also possesses anti-inflammatory properties along with anti-cancer effects, as one study showed it to fundamentally slow down the speed of malignant tumor growth.
Cannabinoid overview: THCA
- THCA shows a lot of promise for its future in human medicine
- Proven results as an anti-emetic and anti-inflammatory
9. CBDA – Cannabidiolic Acid
Similar to THCA, CBDA is the acidic precursor to the well-known cannabinoid CBD. Like CBD, CBDA is a non-psychoactive compound. However, next to some of the other cannabinoids, it has a long way to go in terms of research.
CBDA is currently being looked at to see what – if any – health benefits it may share with other cannabinoids. Preliminary studies have shown its role as a possible anti-emetic and anti-bacterial, and also as a possible treatment for the proliferation of cancer cells.
Cannabinoid overview: CBDA
- This cannabinoid is one of the lesser looked into compounds of marijuana
- Similar to CBD in that it does not produce a high
- CBDA has properties that could prove beneficial in the future
10. CBGa – Cannabigerolic Acid
To finish off our exploration into some of the best cannabinoids found in marijuana, it feels appropriate to talk about CBGA. Basically, if it weren’t for this cannabinoid, there would be no medicinal benefits to marijuana whatsoever!
Without CBGa, there would be no medicinal benefits of cannabis whatsoever!
What we mean by this is, while CBGa can’t be said to provide many health benefits on its own, its contribution to the overall effects of marijuana are unparalleled. Many of the most beneficial cannabinoids (including THC, CBD, CBC and CBG) all stem from cannabigerolic acid. By way of biosynthesis, CBGa constructs the all-important cannabis compounds that lead us to the medically beneficial cannabinoids that we know and love.
While the majority of scientific studies into this cannabinoid center on its role in creating other compounds, there has been some promise that it could be used in a similar way to other cannabinoids in terms of an anti-proliferative cancer treatment.
Cannabinoid overview: CBGa
- Less studied for its health benefits, this cannabinoid is looked at closely for its role as a building block for other useful cannabinoids
- Could be used in the future as an anti-proliferative cancer treatment
- Encourages apoptosis (death of cells)
Final Thoughts on the Best Cannabinoids in Marijuana
Frankly, the vast research that has already gone into the medicinal benefits of cannabinoids is mind-blowing; from cancer to skin diseases, there seems to be very little that marijuana cannot help with. And while there is still a long way to go in terms of understanding the 480 components that make up the marijuana plant, it is clear that there are very few recorded downsides to using cannabinoids in the treatment of health issues.
The bottom line is, it’s becoming more and more difficult for doubters to argue against the benefits of cannabis, considering the assortment of evidence that has been accumulated and published. And of course, it seems like only a matter of time until researchers find out more about the lesser-known cannabinoids that are contained within this amazing plant!