You’ve likely heard of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabis compound that produces the plant’s most famous effect – the feeling of being high. Perhaps you’ve also heard of cannabidiol, also known as CBD. CBD is having an “it” moment, as researchers and the general public alike learn about its anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effects.
THC and CBD are important tools in cannabis’s pharmacological arsenal, but they’re just two of over 200 cannabinoids that have been identified to date.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are the cannabis plant’s naturally-occurring active chemical compounds, and they play an important role in how we experience cannabis. Different strains of cannabis contain different compositions of cannabinoids, which is why some can induce sleepiness and relaxation, while others can inspire energy and creativity.
Cannabinoids aren’t cannabis’s only therapeutic agents, but they’re important, working synergistically with other compounds, like terpenes, to create varied effects from strain to strain, and even from batch to batch. (Unlike flower, medical cannabis oils are standardized for consistent cannabinoid and terpene content.)
Here are five of the most important cannabinoids:
If you’ve ever been stoned on marijuana, THC is likely the reason why. Famous for its euphoric effects, THC is also an analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent. In excessive amounts, THC can induce feelings of anxiety and paranoia. THC has been shown to reduce muscle pain and spasms, and to increase the efficacy of other painkillers, such as opioids, and even to replace them. This last fact is leading harm reduction advocates, doctors and researchers to explore its potential to curb the opioid crisis.
Until recently, it was difficult to find cannabis rich in CBD, as prohibition favoured high-THC products that packed the most recreational punch into the densest buds. Today, high-CBD strains are becoming more common, especially on the medical market. Present in both intoxicating varieties of cannabis, as well as the non-intoxicating hemp plant, CBD is best known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. It also demonstrates analgesic, anticonvulsant and neuroprotective qualities. CBD modulates the psychoactive effects of THC, and can mitigate or eliminate THC-induced anxiety and paranoia.
CBG is less understood than THC and CBD and not nearly as ubiquitous as either, identified in only a few legally available Canadian strains. However, early investigations into CBG are promising, and it’s been found to exhibit analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. CBG is also being studied as a potential antibacterial and antibiotic agent. CBG is not intoxicating and could one day be used to treat inflammatory bowel conditions, pain and neurodegenerative diseases.
Although it is rarely mentioned in cannabinoid breakdowns from licensed producers (or dispensaries, for that matter), CBC is one of the most abundant cannabinoids. Like CBD, it is non-intoxicating, anti-inflammatory and analgesic. In studies it has shown promise as a potential treatment for acne, depression, pain and inflammation.
CBN is a byproduct of THC, produced as THC oxidizes or, in other words, gets old. It’s not intoxicating on its own, but can enhance the intoxicating-properties of THC. Some people report a dull or heavy feeling from too much CBN. It’s being explored as a potential burn therapy, sedative, appetite stimulant and treatment for antibiotic-resistant staph infections.