Skip to main content

Cannabinoids are an essential component of the cannabis plant. These naturally occurring chemical substances play a role in the many effects that cannabis users experience when they smoke a blunt, eat an edible, or drop a cannabis-infused tincture under their tongue.

Cannabis contains many cannabinoids – any compound that can impact the endocannabinoid system is considered a cannabinoid. They occur naturally in the human body, various other plant species, and they can be manufactured artificially.

Cannabinoids can cause diverse effects, including euphoria, pain-alleviation, paranoia, drowsiness, and hunger. Yes, certain cannabinoids can cause “the munchies.”

In this Cannabis 101 article, we’ll look at different types of cannabinoids, how they can affect the body, and how cannabinoids function in plants.

Types of cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are one of the most studied chemicals in history. They can be divided into three categories: endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids.

  • Endocannabinoids, or endogenously produced cannabinoids, may be found in the bodies of humans and other animals.
  • Phytocannabinoids are present in cannabis and a few other plants.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured in laboratories.

Endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids)

An endocannabinoid system is a group of molecules that act as neurotransmitters. Endogenous cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids, are natural compounds similar to those found in cannabis produced by different organs and tissues in the body and have a comparable chemical structure to those found in cannabis.

The human body produces these endocannabinoid chemicals naturally to help control functions like pain, memory, mood, immunity, sleep, and stress, aiding in the proper functioning of several bodily processes. The two most important endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol), which are known to regulate human cardiovascular functions.


Cannabis is the most plentiful and diversified source of phytocannabinoids, with more than 150 different cannabinoids present in the plant. There are more than 150 distinct cannabinoids found in cannabis.

While they are a source of cannabinoids, Cannabis plants do not create cannabinoids. Instead, they produce cannabinoid acids such as THCA and CBDA that must be activated to become cannabinoids known to consumers, such as THC and CBD.

When cannabis is heated – with the flame of a lighter, the atomizer in a vape pen, an oven when making edibles, etc. – a process called decarboxylation occurs. THCA has an extra carboxyl ring in its chemical structure, which can be removed with heat, decarboxylating the compound. Decarboxylation activates the psychoactive compounds in a cannabis plant, resulting in the high you feel when consuming it. THCA is converted into THC, most commonly when a cannabis plant is heated but also when crushed, dried, cured, or otherwise broken down. THC is the psychotropic and intoxicating cannabinoid that so many people desire. THCA cannot make you high; THC can.

While the use of raw cannabinoid acids is gaining popularity, most consumers choose to ingest activated cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids have been found in several plants and animals, including black pepper, cacao, echinacea, rhododendrons, and black truffles. Much like their cannabis-based counterparts, these chemicals are cannabimimetic—meaning they can mimic the effects of cannabis cannabinoids.

Synthetic cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured chemicals that don’t occur naturally in plants or people but can be produced using chemical processes. There are more than 200 synthetic cannabinoids, and most of them are designed to substantially affect the body’s cannabinoid receptors.

AMB-FUBINACA, for example, is said to be 75 times more potent than THC, the primary psychoactive cannabinoid present in marijuana. However, it’s important to note that synthetic cannabinoids have a questionable safety record since some can cause adverse effects, including anxiety, suspicion, and cognitive disability.

Synthetic cannabinoids can also be produced by chemically altering CBD, which is typically harvested from industrial hemp. Another type of synthetic cannabinoid production is the “pharming” of cannabinoids using brewer’s yeast, which acts as a growth medium for bacteria and algae.

Cannabinoids produced from yeast are structurally and chemically the same as those found in cannabis. However, since they are the product of genetic engineering, they are technically manufactured.

The effects of cannabinoids on the body

In the end, no two people’s endocannabinoid systems are the same. The effect of phytocannabinoids on different people varies. While some feel relaxed when smoking a joint with friends, others may become anxious. Researchers are still studying how particular cannabinoids impact our bodies.

The endocannabinoid system

Cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system or ECS. The endocannabinoid system maintains bodily processes such as sleep, memory, mood, hunger, and pain.

Basically, the ECS is a signaling network that covers the body. Cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids (cannabinoids created by the body), and enzymes that aid in creating and breaking down endocannabinoids are all components of this vast network.

Cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors, which are present throughout the human body. CB1 and CB2 are the two known types. CB receptors are found in the brain, spinal cord, internal organs such as the gastrointestinal tract, and peripheral regions of the body. Cannabinoid receptors can be activated by endocannabinoids, resulting in feelings of drowsiness, relaxation, or hunger.

How cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system

Endocannabinoids aren’t the only molecules that can activate endocannabinoid receptors. Phytocannabinoids are structurally similar to endogenously produced cannabinoids and can also stimulate these receptors. Cannabinoids secreted by cannabis plants can bind to cannabinoid receptors in our endocannabinoid system, producing a wide range of physiological reactions.

Euphoria, paranoia, pain alleviation, appetite stimulation, drowsiness, inflammation reduction, and even enhanced creativity are all possible outcomes.

Marijuana and its chemical compounds can produce a wide range of effects. THC, for example, may cause euphoria, relieve pain, and stimulate appetite. CBD can reduce inflammation and anxiety while also inhibiting seizures.

However, it appears that cannabinoids interact with other receptors in the body as well, including 5-HT serotonin receptors. The potency with which cannabinoids can bind to these receptors determines the variety of effects they may produce.

Consumption method 

The way cannabis is consumed has an impact on how it works. The bioavailability of cannabinoids can be significantly altered depending on whether they are delivered via smoking, oral intake, or transdermal application. Bioavailability refers to how well a substance is absorbed by the body and enables it to provide an active effect.

The bioavailability of inhaled THC is around 30%, and the effects can begin after only ten minutes. When THC is eaten in a brownie, the bioavailability is 4-12%, with effects taking up to one hour or more to manifest. This is because cannabinoids must go through the intestines and into the liver where they are metabolized, and bioavailability is reduced. The majority of THC is destroyed in the liver and converted into various chemicals, resulting in poor bioavailability.

The role of cannabinoids in the plant

Cannabinoids have a crucial function in protecting the cannabis plant’s health. Cannabinoids accumulate in cannabis trichomes, which are mostly found on female buds and are sticky and full of resin.

cannabinoids in the plant

According to recent studies, cannabinoids act as a sunscreen, absorbing damaging UV-B radiation that can harm the plant’s growth. Furthermore, research indicates that when cannabis flowers are exposed to additional UV-B radiation, cannabinoid production increases.

Cannabinoids likely have an array of additional defensive functions. Trichomes, where cannabinoids are mostly found, are common to a variety of plant species and aid in the protection against insect and predator attacks, drought, and overheating.

Heat, low soil moisture, and even soil that lacks nutrients all seem to increase the cannabinoids produced by cannabis. Ironically, it appears that a little bit of stress may be beneficial for cannabinoid production.

Major cannabinoids

The most well-known cannabinoid acids are THC-Acid and CBD-Acid, which are responsible for the majority of cannabis’s medical effects. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the primary cannabinoids found in cannabis. They’re present in much greater quantities than other cannabinoids found in the plant. THC potency has been rising over time, suggesting that cannabis enthusiasts have selectively bred plants to produce marijuana with increasingly high THC levels.

Both THC and CBD are psychoactive cannabinoids, which can alter nervous system function and temporarily alter one’s perception, mood, cognition, and behavior. THC is psychoactive and can make you high, while CBD is not. Both chemicals have a variety of additional physical and behavioral impacts. There’s a wealth of studies looking at their medicinal applications.

Cannabinoids in general, and THC and CBD in particular, are used to define cannabis. Cannabis strains are now often classified by their primary cannabinoid content, which fall into three categories:

  • Type I: High concentrations of THC
  • Type II: Equal levels of THC and CBD
  • Type III: High levels of CBD

Minor cannabinoids

Over 150 cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis so far, and this number is growing. However, the majority of these are minor cannabinoids, accounting for less than 1% of the cannabis bud. Interest in minor cannabinoids has recently risen as we explore the potential of these lesser-known cannabinoids.

Minor cannabinoids, like delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC, are gaining a reputation for delivering a euphoric high. These minor cannabinoids are naturally present in low levels and are frequently produced from cannabis compounds to avoid legal difficulties.

Researchers are also investigating the therapeutic potential of minor cannabinoids such as THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), CBG (cannabigerol), and CBN (cannabinol). Minor cannabinoids may be blended with terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds in the future to produce specialized cannabis healthcare that targets particular issues and ailments.