Cannabinoids - THC, CBD and more

Cannabinoids - THC, CBD and more

Cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are highly valuable medicinal compounds found in the cannabis/hemp plant. Among them, cannabinoids are substances that act on our endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS). They are divided into plant derived cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) and endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids). You can read more about endogenous cannabinoids in our previous article: the endogenous cannabinoid system.

In this article, we will learn about plant cannabinoids.

Plant derived cannabinoids (Phyto-cannabinoid)

Phyto-cannabinoids are cannabinoids found in plants. In addition to cannabis and hemp trees, several other plants can also produce cannabinoids, but only in extremely low and negligible amounts compared to the cannabis/hemp plant.

Read more: Cannabinoid Delivery Systems

More than 113 different plant cannabinoids have been found, each with their own unique yet similar properties and medical value. However, for now, these are the major or lesser-known cannabinoids that are most researched:

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Is the main psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant known for its ability to cause psychoactive effects, also known as the feeling of "cannabis high". When you smoke cannabis and feel high, that's the effect of THC.

It is quite difficult to describe this feeling for someone who hasn't tried cannabis, since everyone’s reaction to the drug is different. But simply put, it causes a change in the way our senses perceive the world, including alertness, perception, language ability, short-term memory. .. It is the reason for cannabis to be used as a recreational or psychedelic drug, and is also the reason for this plant to be in the list of the controlled substances in many countries.

Many people see the “cannabis high” as something evil, unnatural, a self-destructive state similar to drunkenness that leads to many unpredictable health and social consequences, including addiction, depression or moral renunciation. On the other hand, this psychoactive effect can also be used for good or even sacred purposes, such as as a gateway to communicate with the gods in religious ceremonies, or simply just to relax, release stress, enhance creativity, or to explore one’s inner-self...

Read more: Does CBD have side effects?

This psychological effect of THC may also come with some healing effects, as they may be able to relieve pain, stress, and anxiety to a certain degree. In end-of-life care, some psychoactive drugs, like cannabis, can be used to ease the fear of an inevitable death in the case of serious illnesses. So, the “high” isn't necessarily a bad thing. But, to prevent unwanted consequences such as misuses of the drug, it does need to be approached with caution, at the right time, in the right dose, and with well-prepared knowledge.

In addition to providing a psychological effect, THC also has many medical effects, including: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anesthetic, anti-anxiety, depression, antiemetic, anticonvulsant, neuroprotective properties… On the other hand, THC can also cause side effects that  are the reverse of some of these effects, such as its ability to cause anxiety, vomiting and depression... if used at a too high dosage, in new users, or in the cases of people who are sensitive to THC.

Finally, THC in particular and cannabis in general can carry a slight risk for addiction. Yes, the risk is low and it’s not nearly as severe as something like meth, tobacco or alcohol. However, misusing it can still bring negative consequences. Cannabis addiction is believed to lead to laziness, decreased interest in work and life, reduced work productivity and most dangerously, the risk of violating the law if used in places where cannabis is not yet legalized.

So, please be careful with THC!

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)

As the name suggested, this cannabinoid is very similar and in fact, it is the precursor to THC. When first harvested, the cannabis/hemp plant mainly contains only THCA instead of THC. Through the process of decarboxylation, mostly via heating the plant when smoking, THCA will be converted to THC. THCA doesn't have the same psychoactive effects as THC, which means that eating fresh cannabis/hemp won't get a person high. You can only get high if the product you consume contains THC, meaning that some of the THCA in it has been decarboxylated.

Read more:  What are terpenes? Why does cannabis smell?

Currently, studies on THCA are limited and mostly limited to experiments on animals. But early results show that THCA can have antiemetic and antioxidant properties.[1] THCA can also reduce inflammation at high concentrations. In addition, there is anecdotal evidence that THCA can work for epilepsy and may reduce cancer pain. 

Furthermore, while it's not known for certain, THCA has been shown to be significantly more beneficial if it is administered in the form of a full spectrum extract than when it is used in isolated form. Meaning, THCA when used in conjunction with other cannabinoids can bring greater benefits than THCA alone.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Unlike THC, CBD cannot make you high. But saying that this cannabis is not psychoactive is not entirely correct. CBD is still psychoactive, and that’s why it can help with anxiety, depression, and seizures. It’s just that this cannabinoid does not mess with our minds as in the way that THC does.

Read more: How does CBD work in skincare?

The reason is, in contrast to THC, which can activate the cannabinoid receptor CB1 in the brain, CBD has a very low affinity for both CB1 and CB2. In fact, CBD is an allosteric inhibitor of CB1, meaning it binds to this receptor, not at the active site, but the regulatory site. This way, it can regulate the actions of cannabinoids like THC. In fact, CBD not only does not cause the feeling of high, but can also inhibit and modulate the effects of THC. Thus, using CBD along side THC can be beneficial, as just a small amount of CBD can bring more health benefits, while minimizing the side effects that THC causes.[2]

Moreover, CBD inhibits the cannabinoid-degrading enzyme FAAH. This action can enhances and prolongs the activity of the endogenous cannabinoid anandamide, providing pain and stress relieving properties.[3]

In addition to acting somewhat indirectly on the endogenous cannabinoid system, CBD also acts on many other types of receptors to regulate many different biological processes, such as:

  • 5HT1A Serotonin receptor (antidepressant effect). [4]
  • TRPV1 receptor (regulatory effect on pain and inflammatory response). [5]
  • PPAR - gamma nuclear receptor (effects: neuroprotection, memory and cognition regulation, pain, homeostasis regulation, insulin sensitivity, metabolism. This receptor also plays an important role in cancer). [6]
  • GPR55 orphan receptor (anti-osteoporosis and cancer). [7]

Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA)

As THCA is the precursor to THC, CBDA is a precursor to CBD. CBDA converts to CBD via the same process, which is decarboxylation.

Like CBD, CBDA has been shown to reduce vomiting in rats through activation of the serotonin 5HT1A receptor, or by reducing intestinal motility.[8] As a result, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy can benefit greatly from CBDA. Activation of the serotonin 5HT1A receptor has also shown antidepressant and stress-reducing effects. In fact, CBDA has been shown to reduce stress in a rat model.

Some other effects of CBDA are: activating of the TRPV1 receptor (relieves pain and inflammation), regulating enzymes in the endogenous cannabinoid system, inhibiting cyclooxygenase (anti-inflammatory).

Cannabigerol (CBG)

Scientists have recently been paying a lot of attention to this plant cannabinoid. Animal and some in-vitro studies suggest that CBG may increase appetite, aid digestion, and has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

Cannabinol (CBN)

The flowers of the cannabis/hemp plant have very little CBN, as CBN is mainly produced not via the biological processes in the plant. It is produced mostly after THC has been exposed to oxygen and light for a period of time, converting to CBN.

CBN is widely believed to have a very strong sleep-inducing effect. The reason is that cannabis stored for a long time tends to be more sedative. In fact, aged cannabis products tend to have higher levels of CBN.

Read more: What is the Endocannabinoid system?

However, according to Dr. Ethan Russo, MD, Director of Research and Development at the International Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoids, the sedating effects of smoking cannabis may be due to the loss of other compounds, for example terpenes, and this effect can be mistakenly attributed to CBN. In fact, there are no scientific studies to confirm that CBN has any sedating effect, and it seems that CBN only produces a drowsiness effect when combined with THC.

Currently, CBN is being studied for the following effects:

  • Pain relief.
  • Antimicrobial.
  • Anti-inflammatory.
  • Anti-cancer.
  • Increasing appetite.

Cannabichromene (CBC)

Similar to other lesser-known cannabinoids, CBC has not been well studied. However, CBC has been shown to reduce fat formation and inflammation in human skin cells, suggesting that this cannabinoid may help fight acne. In addition, experiments on mice also showed the ability to reduce intestinal motility, reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and fight depression. CBC may also have effects against certain strains of bacteria and against cancer.


Besides these 7 cannabinoids, there are more than 100 other cannabinoids such as cannabivarin (CBV), cannabinodiol (CBND), cannabielsion (CBE), cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabitriol (CBT)... However, at the present time, studies on them are still very limited. Hopefully in the future, science will delve deeper into this area, helping us to discover a greater potential and more medical effects of cannabinoids.


[1] Rock et al., “Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid Reduces Nausea-Induced Conditioned Gaping in Rats and Vomiting in Suncus Murinus.”

[2] Russo and Guy, “A Tale of Two Cannabinoids: The Therapeutic Rationale for Combining Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol.”

[3] Bisogno et al., “Molecular Targets for Cannabidiol and Its Synthetic Analogues: Effect on Vanilloid VR1 Receptors and on the Cellular Uptake and Enzymatic Hydrolysis of Anandamide.”

[4] Russo et al., “Agonistic Properties of Cannabidiol at 5-HT1a Receptors.”

[5] Muller, Morales, and Reggio, “Cannabinoid Ligands Targeting TRP Channels.”

[6] O’Sullivan, “An Update on PPAR Activation by Cannabinoids.”

[7] Ryberg et al., “The Orphan Receptor GPR55 Is a Novel Cannabinoid Receptor.”

[8] Bolognini et al., “Cannabidiolic Acid Prevents Vomiting in Suncus Murinus and Nausea-Induced Behaviour in Rats by Enhancing 5-HT1A Receptor Activation.”

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