CBD isn’t the only important phytochemical in hemp — far from it. CBD actually belongs to a class of over 100 compounds called cannabinoids. Amazingly enough, the majority of these cannabinoids are present in any given cannabis or hemp plant. No wonder leading researchers call cannabis a “pharmacological treasure trove.”
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are a class of naturally-occurring chemical compounds found in cannabis, hemp, and several other plants. Cannabinoids are characterized by their ability to interact with the endocannabinoid system; technically, any substance that activates endocannabinoid receptors is a cannabinoid.
You may have read elsewhere in our glossary that all cannabinoids (at least all the cannabinoids in cannabis/hemp) come from one source, the “mother cannabinoid” known as CBG. Also keep in mind that only female cannabis/hemp plants contain significant amounts of cannabinoids; male plants put their energy into pollination, not cannabinoid production.
Cannabinoids are the most studied group of naturally occurring chemical compounds in cannabis and hemp. Since the 60s, when most of the major cannabinoids were discovered, they’ve been the subject of thousands of tests on humans and animals. You can thank the wide range of therapeutic effects they have on all of us for that! Research has covered nearly every topic imaginable, ranging from epilepsy to inflammation to athletic performance...the only thing that’s still lacking is clinical trials.
How many Cannabinoids are there?
The cannabis plant contains over 100 known cannabinoids...and new ones are being discovered every year. These cannabinoids generally have similar effects, though there are some variances.
It’s also worth noting that the cannabinoids in cannabis seem to follow an 80/20 rule. Only a few of them (CBD and THC, usually) make up the bulk of cannabis’ total cannabinoid content, while dozens of others are present in only trace quantities.
Here’s a list which should give you a better idea:
- CBD | Also known as cannabidiol, CBD is the most prevalent cannabinoid in hemp by far, at 10-25% by dry weight.
- CBDA | Cannabidiolic acid is the ‘raw’ form of CBD. CBDA isn’t as bioavailable as CBD, though it may have unique health benefits.
- THC | Also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, THC is usually the second most prevalent cannabinoid in hemp, at .2-.3% by dry weight. THC is one of the few psychoactive cannabinoids.
- THCA | Tetrahydrocannabidiolic acid is the ‘raw’ form of THC. Unlike THC, THCA is non-psychotropic, though it may have unique health benefits.
- CBG | Cannabigerol is the “mother cannabinoid” that forms all others, though mature hemp usually contains only trace amounts of it.
- CBC | Hemp contains cannabichromene in only trace amounts. CBC seems to bind to pain receptors (like those in the TRPV family) and may also engage the entourage effect.
- CBN | Cannabinol is a fully oxidized (broken down) cannabinoid that may have sleep-promoting qualities. CBN may also be slightly psychotropic, especially at high doses.
- CBDV | Cannabidivarin is closely related to CBD, both molecularly and in terms of its effects. It was discovered over 50 years ago, much research is still to be done.
- Other compounds | Interestingly enough, certain compounds in chocolate may also act like cannabinoids by boosting mood and mental function.
Does the body produce Cannabinoids?
In addition to all the above, the human body produces powerful cannabinoids of its own. There may be as many as 5 or 10 endo-cannabinoids, but two are most prevalent:
- Anandamide | Anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule,” was the first discovered endocannabinoid. It’s produced by the body to help maintain homeostasis. Exercise, social situations, and plant cannabinoids may all boost anandamide levels.
- 2-AG | 2-AG is the other primary cannabinoid; it’s found throughout the body and the brain and tends to bind to CB2 receptors. Like anandamide, 2-AG is anti-inflammatory and helps to maintain homeostasis.
What do Cannabinoids do?
According to their definition, cannabinoids stimulate the body’s endocannabinoid receptors. And when endocannabinoid receptors are stimulated...good things happen. A healthy ECS is able to maintain homeostasis, AKA perfect balance, in the body.