Cannabinoids are a class of diverse chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Some active cannabinoids include THC and CBD. They attach to the cannabinoid receptors of cells, which then release chemicals throughout the body.
At most recent count, there are at least 133 types of cannabinoids in cannabis.
We are just beginning to explore cannabinoids
Cannabinoid receptors weren’t even discovered until the 1980s. There is still a lot we don’t know about how cannabinoids even work or what most individual cannabinoids do. For instance, tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP) and cannabidiphorol (CBDP) were just discovered in the year 2020, and they were trumpeted around the web as being “30 times more potent than THC.” That actually doesn’t mean they get you higher though.
- THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) – Precursor to THC, why you need to decarb weed to activate it.
- CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) – Likewise the precursor to CBD, same reason to decarb.
- Cannabinol (CBN) – Chemically similar to CBD, but found in oxidized (aged) weed. Known to contribute to drowsiness.
- CBG (cannabigerol) – Precursor to other cannabinoids, leaving very small quantities naturally. Sometimes called the “stem cell” of cannabinoids.
- CBC (cannabichromene) – Found abundantly. Not psychoactive, is being studied for medical effects.
- CBL (cannabicyclol) – Derived from CBC, even on exposure to light.
- CBV (cannabivarin) – Analog of CBN.
- THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) – Homologue of THC. Has some psychoactive effects, is being studied for medical use. Known to decrease the effects of THC, when present.
- CBDV (cannabidivarin) – Homologue of CBD. Some study on medical effects is ongoing.
- CBCV (cannabichromevarin) – Homoloue of CBC. Largely unstudied yet.
Cannabinoids can also have isomers
An isomer is a molecule which has had a few atoms swap within the atomic structure, so that you have the same basic atoms but arranged in a different construction. Isomers have similar, but not identical properties to the original molecule. In the case of THC, we know the “classic” THC as actually “delta 9.” Isomers we have seen hit the market so far are the hugely popular delta 8 and delta 10. See also our more thorough breakdown of deltas 8, 10, and company here.
When you start counting isomers, there are 30 known isomers of THC! We can expect that each of them have their own psychoactive effects, but we are just beginning to isolate and concentrate these isomers into products of their own, so we have a lot of exploring to do. If we also expect similar isomers to occur for the 130 other known cannabinoids, the variety of these could number into the thousands!
On top of cannabinoids, cannabis also contains terpenes, which have their own range of psychoactive and physical effects. Terpenes are also commonly found in other plants.
The study of cannabis cannabinoids has been hampered so far by the strong legal prohibitions against cannabis in much of the world. Thanks to the recent legalization of cannabis, scientific research has begun in earnest. So far we’re making breakthrough discoveries all the time, showing promise that we are on the threshold of a new frontier in understanding the organic compounds in cannabis and their effects.