When reading about cannabis or marijuana you will undoubtedly come across a few words that may not mean much to you such as cannabinoid, endocannabinoids as well as various acronyms such as THC, CBD, CBN. What do these mean?

Cannabinoids are diverse chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The two most notable cannabinoids are Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. THC is the primary psychoactive compound of cannabis. In other words, it is responsible for the high you feel. Another well known cannabinoid is cannabidiol or CBD. CBD has been in the news lately as it is the cannabinoid that can have amazing healing effects and it is not psychoactive.

Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors were first discovered in the 1980s. These receptors are what the cannabinoids interact with to produce the effects you feel. These receptors are common in animals and have been found in mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. At present there are two know types of cannabinoid receptors, termed CB1 and CB2 with evidence of more.

Cannabinoid receptor type 1

CB1 receptors are found primarily in the brain. They are also found in the cerebellum and in both male and female reproductive systems. CB1 receptors are absent in the medulla oblongata, the part of the brain stem responsible for respiratory and cardiovascular functions. Thus, there is not the risk of respiratory or cardiovascular failure that can be produced by some drugs. CB1 receptors appear to be responsible for the euphoric and anticonvulsive effects of cannabis.

Cannabinoid receptor type 2

CB2 receptors are predominantly found in the immune system. CB2 receptors appear to be responsible for the anti-inflammatory and possibly other therapeutic effects of cannabis.


Endocannabinoids are substances produced from within the body that activate cannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoids interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors and are involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory. The endocannabinoid system has been studied using genetic and pharmacological methods. These studies have revealed that cannabinoids act as neuromodulators for a variety of physiological processes, including motor learning, synaptic plasticity, appetite, and pain sensation. Learn more on the Endocannabinoid System.

Synthetic cannabinoids

Historically, laboratory synthesis of cannabinoids were often based on the structure of herbal cannabinoids. Newer compounds are no longer related to natural cannabinoids or are based on the structure of the endogenous cannabinoids.

Synthetic cannabinoids are particularly useful in experiments to determine the relationship between the structure and activity of cannabinoid compounds, by making systematic, incremental modifications of cannabinoid molecules.

Synthetic cannabinoids have been used as medicine as it can produce similar effects to natural cannabinoids. It is important to note that there are products commonly refereed to as "synthetic marijuana" that may contain a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics natural cannabinoids, however, many of these products also contain other chemicals. These products are commonly refereed to as Spice, K2 or many other names. These products are not marijuana and it is misleading to consider these products synthetic marijuana.

Effects of Cannabinoids

Each cannabinoid can cause various effects and below is a chart that contains various medical effects cannabinoids have been found to have. While an individual cannabinoid can have an effect it has been shown that cannabinoids have a synergistic effect with each other and it is beneficial to have all of the cannabinoids present versus an isolated cannabinoid. Below the chart we list each cannabinoid referenced in the chart.

Analgesic (Pain Reliever)
Anti-Inflammatory (Reduces Inflammation)
Antiolytic (Relieves Anxiety)
Antioxidant (Fights Free Radicals in Bloodstream)
Anti-Depressant (Fights Depression)
Anti-Insomnia (Sleep Aid)
Anti-Spasmodic (Relieves Spasms)
Anti-Epileptic (Suppresses Epileptic Fits)
Anti-Bacterial (Effective Against Bacteria)
Anti-Diabetic (Reduces Diabetic Symptoms)
Anti-Emetic (Reduces Nausea)
Anti-Psoriatic (Relieves Psoriasis)
Intestinal Anti-Prokinetic (Digestive Aid)
Bone Stimulant (Helps with Bone Growth)
Helps with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus
Anti-Proliferative (Inhibits Tumor Cell Growth)
Antisemitic (Reduces Risk of Artery Blockage)
Vasorelxant (Relaxes Veins for Better Blood Flow)
Allograft Stimulant (Minimizes Organ Rejection)

THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol is the primary psychoactive component of the Cannabis plant. THC appears to ease moderate pain (analgesic) and to be neuroprotective. Studies show THC reduces neuroinflammation and stimulates neurogenesis.

CBD: Cannabidiol is non-psychoactive. It appears to relieve convulsion, inflammation, anxiety, and nausea. CBD shares a precursor with THC and is the main cannabinoid in low-THC Cannabis strains. CBD apparently plays a role in preventing the short-term memory loss associated with THC in mammals.Some research suggests that the antipsychotic effects of cannabidiol potentially represent a mechanism in the treatment of schizophrenia. Researchers at California Pacific Medical Center discovered CBD's ability to "turn off" the activity of ID1, the gene responsible for metastasis in breast and other types of cancers, including the particularly aggressive triple negative breast cancer.

CBN: Cannabinol is the primary product of THC degradation, and there is usually little of it in a fresh plant. CBN content increases as THC degrades in storage, and with exposure to light and air. It is only mildly psychoactive.

CBG: Cannabigerol is a non-psychoactive. Cannabigerol is found in higher concentrations in hemp rather than in varieties of Cannabis cultivated for high THC content and their corresponding psychoactive properties. Cannabigerol has been shown to relieve interocular pressure, which may be of benefit in the treatment of glaucoma. It can also be used to treat inflammatory bowel disease.

CBC: Cannabichromene is non-psychoactive and does not affect the psychoactivity of THC. Evidence has suggested that it may play a role in the anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects of cannabis, and may contribute to the overall analgesic effects of medical cannabis.

THCA: Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is a biosynthetic precursor of THC. While THCA does not have psychoactive effects in its own right, it does have antiinflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Despite the ready decarboxylation by drying or heating, conversion of THCA to THC appears to be very limited, giving it only very slight efficacy as a prodrug for THC. Consequently it is believed to be important in less-psychoactive preparations of cannabis used for medical use, such as cannabis tea. It is also commonly used as a biomarker in drug testing along with THCV, to distinguish between prescribed synthetic Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, such as Marinol, and cannabis plant material which may also be used by patients.

THCV: Tetrahydrocannabivarin is prevalent in certain central Asian and southern African strains of Cannabis.

CBDA: Cannabidiolic acid is an enzyme in Cannabis.

CBDV: Cannabidivarin is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in Cannabis.