All About Cannabinoids: The “Miracle” Molecules Found in Cannabis

Microscopic view of cannabis flower and cannabinoids at CannaSafe

What is a Cannabinoid?

Cannabinoids—such as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol)—are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in the plant Cannabis sativa that work in combination to produce varying psychoactive and non-psychoactive effects. At least 113 different cannabinoids have been identified in the cannabis plant to date.  

When consumed by ingestion, inhalation, or topically, these compounds are known to interact with cannabinoid receptors in the human body in what is known as the endocannabinoid systemTogether, cannabinoids are known to act synergistically to form an ‘entourage effect’, meaning that in combination with one another they provide additional benefits beyond what each individual cannabinoid would provide by itself.  

THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for the users “high” while CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Both are being studied individually—and in combination—for a myriad of therapeutic benefits from pain relief to treatment of seizures. 

Cannabinoids as Medicine and Great Hope for Future Uses

Currently, the FDA has not approved the cannabis plant for medicinal use. There are, however, several drugs containing cannabinoids, including Epidiolex, a treatment for seizures related to severe forms of epilepsy. Epidiolox uses a purified form of CBD that is derived from the cannabis plant. Marinol and Syndros are made using dronabinol, which is synthetic THC—or THC made in the lab, not from the plant. Cesamet is made using nabilone, a synthetic molecule similar to THC. All three are approve by the FDA for the treatment of nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy. Dronabinol is also helps loss of appetite and weight loss in patients with HIV/AIDS. 

CBD has been shown to relieve pain and inflammation along with an overall calming effect in a patient. It can be used to treat both anxiety and sleep disorders, and in synergy with THC has been shown to reduce the size of some tumors. 

CBG and CBN are also showing some promising results in preliminary research. CBN (cannabinol) has been found useful to help induce sleep, while CBG (cannabigerol) has been observed to reduce pain and inflammation, and even slow the progression of some cancer cells  

There is much hope in the therapeutic applications of cannabinoids to treat chronic disease and symptoms of disease. Research is still in its infancy due to the legal restrictions of obtaining, handling, and transporting cannabis. 

Are Cannabinoids Approved for Use in Dietary Supplements or Foods?

No. The FDA has not approved products containing THC or CBD to be legally sold as dietary supplements. Likewise, any foods that have been infused with these cannabinoids cannot be sold legally via interstate commerce. In certain states, law may allow for the legal sale of products containing CBD, such as in licensed cannabis dispensaries. 

CannaSafe Testing Vials for Cannabis Terpenes

Below are some commonly recognized cannabinoids:


Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) is the primary psychoactive ingredient in a cannabis plant. 


Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC) is the secondary psychoactive ingredient in a cannabis plant. 


Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is the most abundant non-psychoactive cannabinoid. However, as the plant dries, THCA slowly converts to psychoactive THC. Heat expedites this conversion in a process called decarboxylation. 


Cannabidiol (CBD) is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has been popularized for its many therapeutic applications. 


Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is abundant in the live plants of CBD varieties, and converts to CBD over time and when exposed to heat. 


Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is a psychoactive cannabinoid found most prevalently in Sativa strains of cannabis. 


Cannabidivarin (CBDV) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found most prevalently in Indica strains of cannabis. 


Cannabigerol (CBG) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid most abundant in low-THC and high-CBD cannabis strains, including hemp. 


Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), is one of many minor cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. Eventually, CBGA converts to either THC or CBD.  


Cannabinol (CBN) is a mildly psychoactive component found in cannabis which is created when THC-A oxidizes. 


Cannabichromene (CBC), is a powerful, non-psychoactive cannabinoid. 

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a medical professional with any questions you may have regarding the use of cannabis or hemp to treat a medical condition.