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What Are Cannabinoids? The Ultimate Guide


Cannabinoids Explained

You may be surprised to learn that there are 85 identified and proven phytocannabinoids that are scientifically deemed ‘active’. These are components of the hemp plant that are symmetric to those naturally produced within our own bodies. Yes, we naturally produce our own cannabinoids and they are rather essential to various aspects of our wellbeing.

Some research suggests that the true number could be reaching into the low hundreds if we include terpenes, flavonoids and a host of other bits and pieces. But what the heck are they?

Cannabinoids are one of the very tricky aspects of understanding what constitutes hemp. Much research still needs to be conducted into the nuances of how these seem to bind together, and may potentially offer some kind of supplementary benefit towards addressing an assortment of health issues.

Those who have considered taking CBD oil may have encountered ‘premier league’ companies who publish independent reports on the composition of their products.

You’ll likely be familiar with CBD and THC – but what about CBGA, CBC, THCV, amongst others?

The 9 Major Cannabinoids

Here’s everything you need to know…

What Are They & How Do They Work?

Cannabinoids naturally occur in the Sativa cannabis plant. This is, of course, famous for both recreational and medical use – and remains a Class B drug in the UK making possession, cultivation, and its sale illegal.

Only THC imparts the ‘high’ – which is why many CBD products are now legal and freely available because they contain less than 0.2% of this psychoactive element. By removing the THC, good quality extracts retain – to varying extents – the remaining cannabinoids that are natural to the plant.

People take these supplements to support the cannabinoid receptors that are dotted naturally around the body. These receptors play a role in all kinds of bodily processes, including memory, cognition, pain regulation, mood, and hormonal control.

It all comes down to how well the supplements bind to these receptors, with a growing body of experts believing that products offering a ‘full spectrum’ or ‘whole plant’ range of cannabinoids being superior. So the more cannabinoids the better – in our opinion!

Before we take a look at the most common cannabinoids and what they do, it’s worth pointing out that accepted medical science is still a far way from understanding exactly how these may work.

While CBD products are benign, harmless and impossible to overdose on, there’s still much conjecture over what if any benefits they actually hold.

Our experience would suggest that anecdotally speaking, those who have found most success using CBD have done so by taking high-quality full-spectrum varieties. No promises though!

The 9 Major Cannabinoids Found In Hemp



THC - Chemical StructureLet’s start with the most famous. THC gets you high. Depending on your point of view, it’s either the most or least desirable part of the plant.

One of the reasons cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years and by many contrasting civilisations is that it’s a natural anaesthetic.

It’s also the compound which may help alleviate nausea (one reason why it’s so popular with patients undergoing chemotherapy) and lowers general inflammation.

THC also accentuates appetite and is sometimes used for helping resolve sleeping disorders.

The downside is that the ‘high’ is a very personal thing – some people love it, others may feel extremely anxious, sick and exhibit dry eyes and throats. For this reason, when cannabis is used medicinally (long established in certain US states and very slowly starting in the UK) it’s often prescribed in very low doses, at least to begin with.


CBD - Chemical Structure


Depending on who you listen to, CBD is either psychoactive or not! While it makes up the second largest part of the Sativa plant after THC, it does not carry over any of the high. That being said, many people swear that it helps make them less anxious and/or prone to depressive thoughts – meaning that surely it must be psychoactive? Regardless of who you believe, taking CBD will not flag on drugs tests or in any sense make you feel high as you would by taking THC.

There have been some pretty clear scientific tests which suggest that CBD can potentially help with some health issues (epilepsy and muscular diseases being the most prominent).

It’s also believed to help with a wide variety of issues in some cases, primarily for helping regulate processes within the body and especially help manage inflammation, pain, and psychological distress. There are no side effects, and if anything it serves to reduce those which may be experienced by taking THC.

Between them, THC and CBD constitute around 85% of the entire plant. Naturally, this begs the question of how important the other cannabinoids are, and what they may offer in such relatively limited quantities.


(Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)

THCA - Chemical StructureAs keen-eyed readers may have guessed, this is an acidic precursor that will over time and through exposure to sunlight and heat become THC.

At this stage, it is not psychoactive and can be combined into CBD products to deliver the benefits of THC without the high.

Among other potential benefits, these include the essential anti-inflammatory properties that have made the cannabis plant so popular for so long, and may even help with attacking cancerous cells (depending on how far you trust rodent-based research).


CBDA - Chemical Structure

(Cannabidiolic acid)

You’ll notice this listed a lot as an active ingredient in generally higher quality products.

Just like the above, it’s the acidic parent of CBD and delivers all the positives of the matured compound.

This depends on exposure to heat, time and sunshine.

Expect to find a good deal of this in ‘whole plant’ varieties as it is thought to be crucial in helping bind supplementation into the body.


CBGA - Chemical Structure

(Cannabigerolic acid)

Arguably the most important building block for the mature plants, this will mostly disappear as it morphs into THCA and CBDA.

There will likely be a very low remaining percentage in full spectrum extracts.

It’s believed to aid with spreading and carrying other cannabinoids throughout the body.


CBN - Chemical Structure


Enthusiasts may have noticed that older plants deliver more sleepiness than the classic THC driven high when taken recreationally.

THC gradually turns to CBN once the plant has been harvested, and there may be a small amount retained in your CBD product. This is a good thing, and ought to be of particular interest to those hoping these supplements can help with sleeping problems and anxiety.

Even less is known about the final three key cannabinoids so take these with a pinch of speculation! They will be present in small quantities in any decent extract.


CBC - Chemical Structure


Even mature plants contain very little of this essential cannabinoid, and post-extraction there is likely going to be little more than a trace remaining.

However, and while research is barely in its infancy, there are noises that this may be one of the most important cancer-fighting components.

It’s identified as a natural antioxidant and antifungal component, but in such small quantities, there is a large question mark over how much difference it may actually make.


CBG - Chemical Structure


Some experts believe this could be one of the most significant cannabinoids relating to mood and depressive disorders. It may also help particularly with blood pressure and circulation problems, but for now, that is far from demonstrably proven.

What you may notice is that there is a growing range of quality extracts that promote having a higher than usual quantity of CBG – so read into that what you will.



THCV - Chemical StructureWhile carrying a very gentle psychoactive effect, THCV has been identified as probably the most likely cause for the success that has been found using these supplements to address seizures and epilepsy.

Clinical trials are underway at the moment, and their conclusions are eagerly awaited.

Final Thoughts

These nine cannabinoids are the most distinctive and understood components that ought to be present in any good full spectrum extract.

While they may not seem to make that much of a difference independently, the “entourage effect” which they may provide when combined and working together is why many people take those lab result breakdowns so seriously.

Only recently has the tide started to turn away from ‘pure’ CBD isolates that largely destroy any other cannabinoids towards more full plant varieties.

Whether or not that change in fashion is going to help anyone more or less depends on your opinion, but in ours, the more cannabinoids the more natural the extract – and that’s never a bad thing!