What Are Cannabinoids?

We all know of cannabis and its psychoactive effects: that is, cannabis can get you high. But let’s take a deeper look into this. How does it get you high? Many people who know about THC will use that as the answer. But what about going even deeper? Many do not know that the cannabis plant does not directly produce this cannabinoid. But how so if this cannabinoid is responsible for the psychoactive effects? For this, you need to learn more about cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are responsible for (almost) all of the effects and even medical benefits are given off by cannabis. For these, we need to get down to microscopic levels to discuss chemical compounds and what makes cannabis function the way that it does. In addition, we’ll take a look at the top five cannabinoids found in cannabis. Let’s get into it!

Cannabinoids Description

Cannapunch drink label
The label for this drink states cannabinoid and terpene levels.

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that are naturally produced in cannabis plants (though not all of them are directly produced). There are over 140 cannabinoids that have been found in cannabis, and some scientists believe that there are still some to be discovered. Most cannabinoids are exclusive to cannabis and not found in any other plant.

During the 1980s, scientists discovered exactly how cannabinoids interact with our bodies to produce the effects that we end up feeling. They learned that these cannabinoids interact with what is called our endocannabinoid system. This organic system in our bodies works to give us feelings of satisfaction and even dissatisfaction. Naturally, our bodies produce endocannabinoids to give us feelings such as being happy, pleased, relaxed, and more. When we feel down, unpleasant, and other negative effects, it is because our bodies have reduced the production of endocannabinoids.

Cannabinoids simply expand on how much our endocannabinoid system takes in and allows for our limited natural effects to be felt more precisely. However, only species with endocannabinoid systems would be able to feel the effects of cannabinoids, and ultimately cannabis. So far we know that humans have these systems (duh!), as well as most mammals and even birds. Yes, cats and dogs can get high.

Related Post: Cannabis Effects on Dogs

When a cannabinoid’s name ends with the letter “a”, it typically means that it is an acid of another cannabinoid. For example, CBDA is the acid for CBD, and you can tell by the name. I discuss more on this below.

Synthetic cannabis works to artificially recreate these cannabinoids. However, these artificial recreations are very dangerous and should never be consumed. Cannabis cannot directly kill you, but the synthetic version can. Never use it!

How They Affect Cannabis

Landrace Cannabis Plant
Cannabis plant closeup.

Without these cannabinoids, cannabis would have very few effects and medical benefits, and what it would still have would be quite limited. It would almost be like smoking hemp. You would need to consume tons of cannabinoid-free cannabis to get a regular high. So yes, stick to the cannabinoids. Terpenes would hold up the remaining effects in cannabis, but not as the dominant cannabinoids.

Related Post: How Terpenes Affect Cannabis

Some cannabinoids work well with each other and will benefit from one another. On the other hand, some work against others (more on this below). The most common example of this is THC and CBD, two that do not care for each other and even tend to cancel out one another. This is why it is a good practice to focus on one or the other in each strain.

Some are responsible for producing other cannabinoids that the cannabis plant does not produce directly. For example, CBDA produces CBD. For this, these cannabinoid acids must react to another source (usually heat) to combust into their produced cannabinoid.

Now let’s take a look at five of the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis. I have also included the chemical makeup of each. Of course, THC and CBD are by far the top two, but there are many others (at least 138 more). So we have many to choose from!


THC Chemical Compound Makeup
THC is a chemical compound that can activate psychoactive effects.

THC, or TetraHydroCannabinol is one of the most popular, and common, cannabinoids found in cannabis. It is responsible for the psychoactive effects. While a few other cannabinoids offer psychoactive effects, this cannabinoid is dominant by far. As mentioned above, the cannabis plant does not directly produce THC. Instead, it produces THCA, which is discussed below.


CBD Chemical Makeup
CBD is a chemical compound that can activate certain medical properties.

If the cannabinoid above is not the single most popular cannabinoid, CBD is. Even those who do not like cannabis can use CBD, or cannabidiol, since it is non-psychoactive and offers many medical benefits. CBD is the best cannabinoid for getting the medical benefits of cannabis. You can buy products that only contain CBD and not THC, offering medical benefits with no high from it (this can also be done vice versa with THC products). Cannabis does not produce cannabis, instead, it produces CBDA which then produces CBD.


Cannabinoid THCA Chemical Makeup
THCA is a cannabinoid acid that produces THC.

The cannabinoid responsible for producing THC is known as THCA or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. To better remember this one, think of it as THC acid. To create THC, this cannabinoid needs to be decarboxylated. This is why you must decarboxylate your buds before you make edibles. If you smoke weed, you are combusting THCA and inhaling THC. This cannabinoid is non-psychoactive, yet produces one that is.


Cannabinoid CBN Chemical Makeup
As THC degrades, CBN increases and works well with CBD.

CBN, or cannabinol (one of the easiest to say), is also not directly produced by cannabis. Instead, its process is different from our top two cannabinoids. CBN is increased in cannabis as THC decreases. As a cannabis plant ages and is exposed to air and light longer, THC naturally degrades. As it does, CBN is produced to take its place. CBN also works well with CBD and is mildly psychoactive.


Cannabinoid CBD Chemical Makeup
CBG is non-psychoactive but still contributes to effects.

Much like our top two cannabinoids, CBG, or cannabigerol is produced through its acid cannabinoid, CBGA. This cannabinoid is non-psychoactive, yet it still contributes to some of the effects of cannabis. It is also fairly common.

This post serves as a good general understanding of cannabinoids. Which is your favorite? Are you more THC, or more CBD? Hopefully, this post helped you learn something. Please share this post if you found it useful. Thanks for reading!

FAQ: What Are Cannabinoids?

Q1: What are cannabinoids?

A1: Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found within the cannabis plant that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. They are largely responsible for the therapeutic effects of the cannabis plant, as they interact with the receptors in the endocannabinoid system to produce a range of effects.

Q2: What are the primary effects of cannabinoids?

A2: Cannabinoids have an array of effects on the body, which vary depending on the type of cannabinoid. Generally, cannabinoids can induce feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and improved mood. They can also provide relief for pain, inflammation, anxiety, and nausea.

Q3: Are all cannabinoids psychoactive?

A3: No, not all cannabinoids are psychoactive. While cannabinoids such as THC are known to induce a high, other cannabinoids such as CBD are non-psychoactive and produce no physical or mental effects.

Q4: Are there any potential risks associated with consuming cannabinoids?

A4: Potential risks of consuming cannabinoids includes adverse side effects such as fatigue, dizziness, and changes in appetite, as well as drug interactions. It is important to consult a doctor before consuming cannabinoids to ensure they will not interfere with any medications the individual may be taking.

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Evan Weston

Evan Weston is a contributor to Reefer Posts, a growing community for exploring the developing market of Cannabis and CBD-related products. He spends a lot of time researching the development of health-related products that utilize Cannabis and CBD oils. He also keeps tabs on the developing legal environment regarding medical, recreational cannabis use, and production.

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