The Scientific Research Behind Cannabinoids: Cannabinoid 101

According to scientific research, there are over 500 components that make up the cannabis plant, more specifically, hemp. Of these components, over 100 cannabinoids have been discovered and identified, two of which remain the most prominent and studied: Terahydrocannabidol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) (1). 

In multiple studies, researchers have found therapeutic value in both THC and CBD. However, in recent studies, scientists are discovering additional therapeutic benefits from a number of other cannabinoids such as CBN, CBG, CBDA, THCA, CBDV, etc.

But what makes these cannabinoids so therapeutic? What therapeutic value do they have? And is there a difference between the cannabinoids found in hemp vs. marijuana? 

The biological process of cannabinoids

Amazingly, in all raw cannabis, cannabinoids start out as acids. This means you can eat raw cannabis and not get the psychoactive effect. It’s actually through the decarboxylation (a transformation process) that these cannabinoid acids transform into the cannabinoids we know as CBD, THC, etc. 

The difference of the cannabinoids found in hemp vs. marijuana all is determined by the genetics and species of each plant. For example, marijuana is primarily made up of THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the mind-altering effect. However, as marijuana ages, it begins to breakdown into another cannabinoid known as Cannabinol (CBN). Because hemp plants contain trace amounts of THC, it can be harder to get CBN. Nevertheless, CBN is present in some hemp products (2). 

For example, THC actually starts out as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which is non-psychoactive. Interestingly enough, the “A” attached to THC is known as the carboxyl group. This group, when attached, is much larger than THC, and is impossible to fit into our brain’s cannabinoid receptors. It’s through heating or the decarboxylation process that causes the carboxyl group to detach, thus producing the much smaller but powerful psychotropic cannabinoid, THC. 

The same thing goes for CBD. It starts out as an acid, CBDA. Through decarboxylation, the “A” is detached and CBD is produced. However, cannabinoid acids yield a number of therapeutic benefits, and are often found on lab analysis of hemp- or marijuana-derived products (3).

5 of the most talked about cannabinoids and their therapeutic values 

  • CBC –– Cannabichrometic –– contains a number of powerful effects. It relieves pain by helping the body to naturally produce endocannabinoids that target pain perception. It’s also used for its antimicrobial effects –– fighting against fungi and bad microbes that often develop in the gut. It’s also shown to contain antidepressant effects similar to CBD and THC (2,4). 

  • CBDA –– Cannabidiolic acid –– can be found in both full and broad spectrum hemp-derived products. As mentioned before, CBDA is the precursor of CBD. However, preclinical studies show that CBDA is a powerful antiemetic (anti nausea and vomiting). In fact, CBDA is so therapeutic that it’s been used in mitigating nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy and the side effects of opioids (2,5).

  • CBG –– Cannabigerolic –– helps widen blood vessels, allowing oxygen to flow freely. It’s also a wonderful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiseptic, antimicrobial, and is considered a neuroprotectant. This cannabinoid appears in low levels, and is very beneficial when present (2,6). 

  • CBDV –– Cannabidivarin –– is a lesser known cannabinoid, but has been proven to contain amazing therapeutic value. Recent studies have shown CBDV to be a strong anticonvulsant, and helps relieve nausea as well (2,7).

  • THCA –– Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid –– another cannabinoid acid and the precursor to THC, holds its own therapeutic value. Before THCA is decarboxylated, it’s completely non-psychoactive, meaning it won’t get you “high”. That said, THCA is known as a very powerful analgesic — a natural pain reliever. It also contains strong antiproliferative effects, as well as anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties (2,8).  

Amazingly, the cannabinoids mentioned in this article are just a few of the 100+ cannabinoids that have been discovered by scientists. Although more research is needed to learn what each effect and benefit these cannabinoids possess, the current research is very promising and encouraging for the future of cannabis. 


By: Joy Hughes
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