The Big Six: What Are the Major Cannabinoids?

Cannabis has a wide variety of different effects and uses, but all of them come down to one thing: cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are a special type of compound found in the cannabis plant that can interact with a complex physiological system in the human body called the endogenous cannabinoid system. Also known as the endocannabinoid system or ECS, it is meant to help maintain homeostasis in the human body, which helps regulate processes such as memory, mood, appetite, metabolism, and immune functions. This system operates based on a series of neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids, which happen to be similar to the cannabinoid molecules found in cannabis. Because of this, when you smoke or vape marijuana, the cannabinoids in the plant are carried around through the ECS just like the endocannabinoids, which is the main reason for the drug’s many effects.

Yet not all cannabinoids are created equally. Though there are dozens (or even hundreds) of different cannabinoids, we only know about a handful of them, which are generally the ones that have the most immediate impact. In fact, there are six cannabinoids that can be considered the “major” ones, both in terms of how much we know about them and how much of an effect they have.

The question is: do you know what they are?

THC / Tetrahydrocannabinol

Delta-9 THC (or Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most common component found in cannabis and is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It generally makes up anywhere between 15% and 25% of the cannabis plant. It is the main source of cannabis’ intoxicating effects and its many therapeutic benefits. While there are other forms of THC (including Delta-8 and Delta-10), Delta-9 is so synonymous with the term that it has become the default for most people.

CBD / Cannabidiol

CBD (or Cannabidiol) is the second-most prevalent compound found in the cannabis plant. Compared to THC, CBD has no psychoactive effects on its own, so it does not cause you to experience a “high.” However, it is believed that CBD can enhance the effects induced by THC. While CBD is naturally found in marijuana, CBD-based products are derived from industrial hemp, which is formally recognized as a cannabis plant with 0.3% or less THC content. CBD is known for its various health benefits, having long been recognized as a pain reliever and appetite suppressor, along with helping treat anxiety and depression. It has also been recognized for its ability to alleviate symptoms related to cancer treatments, such as nausea and vomiting.

CBG / Cannabigerol

CBG (or Cannabigerol) is a cannabinoid and the non-acidic form of CBGA (cannabigerol acid), the parent molecule from which all other cannabinoids are synthesized, including THC and CBD. CBG is a non-intoxicating compound like CBD, but some researchers also believe that it can actually counteract the intoxicating effects of THC, lowering its overall psycho-activation. Research surrounding CBG is still new, but there are many early studies suggesting it can help with a variety of conditions, from glaucoma and inflammatory conditions to neurodegenerative diseases and even cancer.

CBN / Cannabinol

CBN (or Cannabinol) was the first cannabinoid to be identified by scientists, having been isolated back in 1896, though research surrounding it has only picked up recently. CBN is considered mildly more intoxicated compared to CBD, but its effects are still minor to the point that it has no real psychoactive effects. Also, unlike many other cannabinoids, CBN is not developed from cannabigerol acid. Instead, CBN is an oxidation product of THC, so when THC is heated or exposed to oxygen, it slowly transforms into CBN. Like many other cannabinoids, CBN is known as a sedative, pain reliever, and anti-inflammatory drug. Unlike CBD though, CBN has also been found to stimulate one’s appetite, making it potentially useful during cancer treatments.

CBC / Cannabichromene

CBC (or Cannabichromene) is a cannabinoid that comes from cannabigerol acid, just like THC and CBD. It is a non-intoxicating compound that has been found to help with pain, inflammation, and anxiety. Additionally, it is considered a cancer fighter that can also help to promote neurological health. Along with these singular benefits, researchers believe that CBC works synergistically work with other cannabinoids, in what is often called the “entourage effect.” This refers to the idea that multiple cannabinoids working together can produce a stronger effect than they would separately.

THCV / Tetrahydrocannabivarin

THCV (or Tetrahydrocannabivarin) was first discovered in 1973, though it has only recently started to gain attention. This cannabinoid is found in very low quantities on the cannabis plant, though if it were consumed in large doses, it could induce psychoactive effects. THCV has been found to help with a variety of conditions, especially when paired with CBD. Some areas it has helped included the reduction of glaucoma levels, lowered blood pressure, fasting insulin levels, and reduced inflammation. It can also be useful in treating anxiety, PTSD, and Parkinson’s disease.

Of course, these are just a few of the most prominent cannabinoids out there. Scientists steadily learning about some of the less understood cannabinoids found in marijuana, while others have discovered relatively new cannabinoids or even developed entirely artificial ones.  As we learn more about how these compounds work, we get a better idea of how cannabis affects us, allowing for a better smoking experience and more health-related treatments. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the end result will be worth it.

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