THC, THCA, CBN, CBG, CBD, & More: An Intro to Cannabinoids

by Emjay
Emjay's Cannabinoid Guide. Photo by CRYSTALWEED

What Are Cannabinoids? Everything You Need To Know About THC, THCA, THCV, CBN, CBG, CBD, & More

Widespread interest in CBD wellness products and the increased legalization or decriminalization of cannabis across the country is bringing a lot of attention to cannabinoids. How many are there? What do they do? Do they all get you high, or is it just THC?

Each cannabinoid has unique properties, but at the end of the day, they all work better together. Cannabinoids work in unison to deliver your body and mind with benefits. This phenomenon is called the entourage effect. If you think of cannabis as a corporation, each cannabinoid is a key player. 

THC is the president, CBD is the vice president, and your other corporate officers come in the form of other cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, THCA, THCV, and more. You may not know their names or what they do, yetyou just know they’re really important.

What are cannabinoids?

“Cannabinoid” is a blanket term that refers to any substance that can bind itself to the body’s endocannabinoid system through its cannabinoid receptors. Cannabis is full of cannabinoids, but they also occur in other plants. Broccoli, kale, and black pepper are also full of cannabinoids. Although it would be wonderful if broccoli could get you high (give science some time on that one), these cannabinoids don’t impact your body or mind in the same way.

Your body makes some of its own cannabinoids, although these are far less exciting. You don’t typically notice their effects. Your endogenous cannabinoids are made and immediately used, so they are impossible to measure. Not much is known about how many of these cannabinoids your body produces, how efficiently it uses them, or if it’s possible to generate a surplus. 

We don’t know exactly how much of these cannabinoids the body needs, leaving scientists unable to determine if it’s possible to be deficient in cannabinoids and what that deficiency might mean.

Emjay's cannabinoid guide. Photo by Terre di Cannabis on Unsplash.

How do cannabinoids work?

Cannabinoids work with your body’s endocannabinoid system. Your body is equipped with two kinds of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. Generally, CB1 receptors work with your central nervous system, your lungs, your kidneys, and your liver, and CB2 receptors work with your blood cells and your immune system. Everyone is born with an endocannabinoid system, and cannabinoids can even be found in mother’s milk.

There may be cannabinoid receptors within your lymphatic system as well. A lot of research seems to suggest that they exist, but this research hasn’t progressed to a point where scientists are able to definitively confirm their existence. CB2 receptors weren’t confirmed to exist until the year 1993, more than a decade after CB1 receptors were first understood.

As research progresses, it’s likely that scientists will continue to discover more types of cannabinoid receptors linked to other important functions of the body. Receptors previously recognized as performing other functions are currently undergoing further scrutiny. It’s possible that CB3, CB4, and CB5 have been discovered, but they’ve not yet been officially named or classified. 

When cannabinoids bind to these receptors that are linked to these vital systems in your body, they change the way those systems work. Since the receptors are seeking cannabinoids, most of the effects of giving them cannabinoids are positive. Every cannabinoid works a little differently, meaning that it’s possible that not all cannabinoids will produce great effects for all people. It depends on where each individual body needs support. 

Cannabinoids work by changing the way that cells communicate with each other. The receptors receive their cannabinoids and then tell the body’s cells what to do. We know that the body needs, and uses cannabinoids. The idea of giving the body more cannabinoids is that, in theory, the extra cannabinoids should provide additional support to the endocannabinoid system. 

It’s a similar idea to taking vitamins or supplements. We know the body uses vitamin C and calcium, and we understand that they’re important. We choose to take more if we notice signs that we may not be getting enough. Weak bones signal the need for more calcium, and unhealthy skin or gums signals the need for more vitamin C. If you feel as though your body’s systems aren’t properly balanced, you might feel that providing it with more cannabinoids can help to correct the issue.

Cannabinoids, synthetic or naturally occurring, are often prescribed to help chronic pain patients manage their symptoms, to help regulate mood in people with anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, to stimulate appetite response in people who have trouble eating, and to reduce inflammation within the body. 

Marinol is a prime example of a cannabinoid working with the body in a positive way. Marinol is a synthetic form of THC administered in tablet form. It’s been approved by the FDA to treat nausea, vomiting, and low appetite in people undergoing chemotherapy. It’s also approved to promote weight gain in patients living with HIV and AIDS, since it stimulates their desire to eat. 

The FDA has also approved one CBD drug, called Epidiolex, that is prescribed for seizure disorders and epilepsy. Although the FDA has not yet given official approval to any additional cannabis products, there is a wealth of evidence that cannabinoids from cannabis are a safe and effective way to support the body.

How many cannabinoids are there?

Scientists say that there are at least 113 cannabinoids. Researchers have yet to fully study or understand every single cannabinoid. Cannabinoids that are the most prevalent in cannabis are the most pressing concern for researchers. It’s possible that even more minor cannabinoids are yet to be discovered. 

There are nine major cannabinoids in cannabis: THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, CBC, THCV, Delta-8-THC, CBDV. CBDA and THCA are acidic variants of CBD and THC rather than separate compounds. CBD and THC are the results of the transformation of THCA and CBDA when these cannabinoids are exposed to heat or dried. In simpler terms, smoking or heating these cannabinoids make them work differently. 

Not every major cannabinoid is found in every cannabis plant. THCV is a little harder to come by, as most plants only produce a very small amount of it. Delta-8-THC is another increasingly popular cannabinoid, but its levels are hardly detectable in most strains.

Are all cannabinoids intoxicating?

People automatically associate cannabis with getting high. This isn’t due to all of its cannabinoids, but only some of its cannabinoids. Although some cannabinoids are technically psychoactive as they’re able to improve your mood, most cannabinoids do so without any intoxicating effects. THC is definitely going to get you high. CBD, on the other hand, won’t do anything to impair you but it will reduce inflammation, anxiety, and other more subtle effects.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of cannabinoids without the intoxicating effects (or if you live in a state where you can’t legally consume cannabis), you can use full-spectrum CBD products. Full-spectrum can be derived from both cannabis and hemp. In a few states, you can only use broad-spectrum hemp products, which are derived exclusively from hemp. 

What is THC?

THC is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in weed. Short for tetrahydrocannabinol, THC is the chemical in cannabis that creates stimulating, psychological effects. THC is a cannabinoid that has been federally illegal since the 1930s. It’s the reason that absurd propaganda films like “Reefer Madness” exist. Society has now progressed to a point where most people don’t correlate THC with absurd claims of murder, rape, suicide, and insane asylums, but the laws still haven’t caught up? Seriously? 

THC is legal to consume and possess in every state that allows adult-use cannabis and medical cannabis. It’s unfortunately still illegal in most states without a medical cannabis card, which places significant limits on cannabis consumption. All cannabis strains except for hemp plants contain more than 0.3% THC, making them subject to restrictions and illegal on a federal level. Non-hemp cannabis can only be openly purchased and used in states where cannabis has been legalized for recreational use.

What are the effects of THC?

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the cannabinoid that gets you high. When it binds to your CB1 receptors, it drastically changes cell communication. Depending on the strain of cannabis, the amount of THC, and the other cannabinoids and terpenes accompanying it, this can be a different experience. 

THC can make you feel happy, sleepy, creative, energized, alert, or relaxed. Sativa strains typically contribute to energized and alert sensations, where Indica strains provide sleepy and relaxed sensations. 

In large amounts, especially if you haven’t developed a tolerance for THC, you may feel anxious or paranoid. If you’re new to cannabis, stick with low THC strains. Strains with 20% or more THC offer an intense high and are sought-after by seasoned cannabis consumers.

Emjay's Cannabinoid Guide. Photo by CRYSTALWEED cannabis on Unsplash.

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is the cannabis plant’s magic powerhouse. It’s the cannabinoid everyone is after and the second most abundant cannabinoid in weed. It’s the cannabinoid you can find on the shelf next to your grocery store’s pharmacy. As long as CBD is made from hemp and has less than 0.3% THC, it’s perfectly legal in all 50 states.

CBD is regarded as one of the most significant cannabinoids or its ability to bind to the body’s CB2 receptors, efficiently fuelling the endocannabinoid system with little to no side effects and no mind-altering effects. CBD is not known to demonstrate any addictive effects or potential for abuse. 

What are the effects of CBD?

A wealth of scientific evidence proves that CBD in large quantities is capable of helping to manage seizure disorders in adolescent patients. In many cases, CBD reduced or completely stopped seizures in children. This discovery led the FDA to approve a drug called Epidiolex, an anti-seizure medication composed of CBD used to treat patients with severe forms of epilepsy. 

Studies on animals have shown that CBD is effective at reducing pain associated with inflammation, but this effect is still being studied in humans without a conclusive verdict. 

People use CBD to promote feelings of calmness or relaxation. It isn’t technically known why so many people experience these feelings when CBD binds to their CB2 receptors. People report great success with CBD for the promotion of better quality sleep and the management of negative emotional states, although researchers still are working to pinpoint how or why this effect takes place.

While CBD is generally regarded as a safe way to supply the body’s endocannabinoid system, there are a few small side effects worth noting. CBD can raise the levels of certain medications in the blood, just like grapefruit can. Talk to your doctor before using CBD if you’re taking blood thinners. Side effects of CBD are very rare, as it’s generally well tolerated by most people. More often than not, the side effects are a result of the other ingredients accompanying CBD in certain wellness products.

What is THCA?

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, more conveniently abbreviated as THCA, is a cannabinoid that only exists in unprocessed, raw cannabis and living cannabis plants. When the plant begins to dry out, THCA becomes THC. Heat drying cannabis plants speeds up a process called decarboxylation, which would otherwise happen naturally. Cannabis that is dried or cured, as well as cannabis that has been harvested and allowed to sit for a prolonged period, will decarboxylate on its own. 

Cannabis that hasn’t aged or been dried, or is used cold and raw, doesn’t contain very much THC. If you were to pluck all the fresh buds off of the highest THC plant known to man and eat them raw, you’d be consuming THCA. THCA isn’t psychoactive. Effectively, you will have wasted hundreds of dollars worth of perfectly good weed.

Heat-based extraction methods quickly convert all of the THCA of the plant into THC, creating a heavy THC extract, concentrate, or dab. Other extraction methods work differently to create highly potent cannabis products. 

When you look at the lab report for your favorite strain of weed, you might see that it lists THC and THCA content. If you intend to use your weed with heat, like smoking it or baking it into a cookie, you’re going to convert more of that THCA into THC, making the weed even more potent than it was when you received it.

What are the effects of THCA?

THCA is nonintoxicating in its raw form. If it’s never allowed to become THC, it cannot get you high. Research on THCA is still being conducted, and we don’t yet have definitive answers regarding its strongest benefits. However, early studies show promise that THCA can make meaningful positive impacts on people living with certain conditions.

THCA, like many other cannabinoids, may help to prevent nausea or vomiting. This effect has been extensively studied in people receiving chemotherapy. THC compounds have been approved for medical use for cancer patients. THCA may also have neuroprotective properties that can help people living with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease.

THCA is being studied as a powerful anti-inflammatory that may be beneficial to people living with chronic inflammatory conditions like lupus and arthritis. Although the FDA has not yet declared a verdict on THCA, the study results look wonderful. There’s every reason to hope that THCA will serve a valuable purpose for many people living with chronic ailments. 

What is CBN?

CBN stands for cannabinol. CBN is THC that has oxidized, meaning it has aged over time. If you’re ever found a bag of old weed that’s been in your jacket since the previous winter and tried to smoke it, you’ve probably noticed that the effects were underwhelming. This is because the THC has degraded, diminishing in its potency as it became CBN.

CBN is mildly psychoactive. Yet it is not a cannabinoid most people seek in their weed. Consuming fresh cannabis is important. CBN will feel like a mild high, but there’s a chance you won’t have a good time smoking it.

What are the effects of CBN?

CBN was popularly touted as a sleep aid cannabinoid. On its own, studies found that CBN doesn’t do more than THC to make people tired. Its reputation as a sleep aid came on the assumption that CBN was the cannabinoid making people tired, but studies point to THC as being the sleep aid cannabinoid. THC combined with CBN makes people even more tired. CBN is an enhancer rather than the lone producer of this effect.

CBN is still being studied. Some brands create CBN isolate-based oils and concentrates. Given the current amount of evidence on CBN available today, it’s hard to say whether or not these products will aid everyone in sleep. But the verdict is still out and cannabis brands are hopeful in this cannabinoid’s potential.

Emjay's Cannabinoid Guide. Photo by Jamie Edwards on Unsplash.

What is CBG?

CBG, or cannabigerol, is called “the mother of all cannabinoids.” Cannabis plants produce CBGA, cannabigerolic acid. The plant uses CBGA to make THCA, CBDA, and CBCA, the acidic forms of the three major cannabinoids. When all is said and done, and the plant is harvested and used, these become THC, CBD, and CBC. The remaining CBG is the leftover precursor from this process, and its presence is minimal. 

Because CBGA makes the important cannabinoids of the plant, researchers and growers are working together to create plants with higher CBGA levels. The idea is that plants with more CBGA will ultimately produce a usable flower that is higher in THC, CBD, and CBC. Everyone is in a rush to create the most THC potent strain or to create the highest CBD tincture, making this venture crucially important. 

CBG and CBGA by themselves cannot get you high. CBGA only has intoxicating effects after the plant has converted it to THCA, and eventually to THC.

What are the effects of CBG?

Although you may not hear about CBG often, it’s been extensively well studied for its potential benefits to the human body. CBG has been found to reduce bowel inflammation in mice, showing promise that one day it may play an effective role in treating people living with inflammatory bowel diseases like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. It also works to inhibit unwanted contractions of the bladder, warranting further scrutiny of CBG for its potential benefits to people living with bladder disorders or urinary incontinence. 

CBG works with the endocannabinoid receptors in the eyes, binding to them and reducing intraocular pressure. CBG is likely the cannabinoid that makes cannabis a valuable treatment for glaucoma, specifically due to this effect. 

Scientists have known for decades that topical cannabis works to reduce bacteria on the surface of the skin, but weren’t sure why until recently. It appears that CBG may have naturally powerful antibacterial effects against MRSA, a notoriously infectious strain of staph bacteria that is reputably difficult to eliminate. 

CBG may potentially be one of the most medically beneficial cannabinoids, but like with all research, verdicts are slow. The FDA takes its time to review studies on everything, and cannabis-related studies are no exception. It may be a while before an official FDA decision comes out on whether or not CBG is a valuable option for helping patients with certain conditions. Until then, following the latest credible research is your best bet in determining the efficacy of this cannabinoid.

How do cannabinoids interact with each other?

Cannabinoids have to interact with each other to produce something called the entourage effect. The cannabinoids from the cannabis plant are balanced. They help the plant grow, flower, and reproduce. When you start eliminating cannabinoids (or terpenes) from the mix, you’re eliminating the plant’s ability to work in synergy. Imagine each cannabinoid as a member of a team. The whole team needs to be present to win the game. 

Your body contains two officially recognized types of cannabinoid receptors, but science suggests there are as many as five in total. Cannabinoids impact each of these receptors differently. In order to provide support to the entire system, each receptor needs to receive the cannabinoids it needs. If you’re using a cannabinoid that only binds to one type of receptor, the rest of your receptors are going without. 

You may be familiar with full-spectrum CBD oil, with manufacturers touting it as the superior form. That’s because they’re producing full-spectrum CBD oil from whole hemp, which aims to leave the terpenes, cannabinoids, including a small trace of THC, intact. 

THC binds to your CB1 receptors in order to produce its effects. CBD isn’t particularly keen on bonding to either CB1 or CB2 receptors. It may be binding to other receptors, but we’re still waiting for the full verdict there. Rather than binding to a cannabinoid receptor, the CBD activates other receptors responsible for regulating your mood and emotional state.

The THC works with CB1 receptors, and CBD actually reduces the THC’s efficacy. CBD stimulates the receptors, encouraging them to work for themselves. Without the THC, the CBD wouldn’t have something to react with. They amplify one another’s effects. In their quest to perform important functions, these cannabinoids work best in sync with the other.

Praise for the benefits of full-spectrum CBD oil isn’t merely people cheerleading for a single cannabinoid. It’s praised for the entourage effect, as every other cannabinoid is there to work with the CBD in supporting your endocannabinoid system. 

THC concentrates are great for getting high as well as for pain relief, as they produce fast-onset relief for all kinds of ailments. Look for concentrates made with well-rounded, balanced strains that contain the full array of cannabinoids. This entourage effect synergy is key to the experience.

What products use cannabinoids?

All cannabis products feature cannabinoids. That’s kind of their whole deal. What kind of cannabinoids they feature and in what amounts will vary from product to product. Flower, from traditional cannabis or from hemp, leaves its entire cannabinoid profile intact. You’re getting everything the plant contains when you smoke flower. 

THC and CBD are the two most prominent cannabinoids. Most growers who test their products will provide information about each product’s THC to CBD ratio and what that means. If you’re looking to catch a buzz, you want a higher ratio of THC. If you’re looking for wellness benefits, you want a higher ratio of CBD. 

Isolate products

Isolate products do not deliver benefits in the same way that whole cannabis does. People who only want to get high may gravitate towards THC heavy products. That’s not always a bad thing, but it’s important to remember that when you focus on THC to the exclusion of every other cannabinoid, you’re missing out on a lot of the good stuff. 

THC isolate

While THC isolates do exist, they’re less popular than concentrates like hash and THC distillates. THC isolates contain anywhere between 80% and 95% THC. They are most commonly found in topicals, lotions, oils, and tinctures. THC isolate products are also commonly used for medical cannabis patients with ailments like epilepsy. 

THC is the most potent of all the cannabinoids on this list. This means THC isolate will offer the most efficacy when it comes to relaxation, sleep aid, pain relief, inflammation reduction, and more.

THCA isolate

If THCA’s potential benefits seem appealing to you, you’re not alone. A ton of people use THCA isolates as wellness aids. These usually come as a supplement in powder or tincture form. You take them just as they are. Powder is often added to drinks, food, or something like tea. Tinctures are also called sublingual, which means they are absorbed into your system from directly under your tongue.

CBD isolate

CBD products are the most popular and socially acceptable cannabis products. They’re also the only cannabis products that are legal in every safe, as they’re derived from hemp plants. If you want to experience the benefits of CBD, you can use a CBD isolate. But you probably shouldn’t. You’re better off using a full-spectrum CBD product to facilitate maximum effects.

Delta-8-THC isolate

Delta-8-THC isolates or distillates supply the brain’s CB1 receptors with THC that is technically legal in most states. If you’re looking to cleverly circumvent some restrictions, delta-8-THC will help you get the job done. Delta-8-THC is a byproduct of the CBD production process. When isolates are produced, the delta-8 would be tossed away if it wasn’t used. Thankfully, you’re here to enjoy it. 

CBN isolate

CBN isolate exists, but it’s harder to find. Most of the time, you’ll find CBN in conjunction with CBD or THC. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. CBN hasn’t been demonstrated to do much when used alone. Smaller amounts of other cannabinoids can boost the effects of CBN, making its benefits more apparent.

CBGA isolate

CBGA isolate products are extremely hard to find, and when you do find them, you’ll notice that they’re easily ten times the price of something like a CBD isolate. CBGA is rare and difficult to collect in large amounts, as the cannabis plant transforms CBGA to other cannabinoids very quickly. 

As the benefits of CBGA continue to be explored and discovered, the demand for CBGA products continues to rise. The market may have to wait a little while for supply to meet demand as growers develop techniques to efficiently produce plants with higher amounts of easily accessible CBGA for isolate products.  

Every cannabinoid is on the menu at Emjay

We know you’re impatient for scientific research to come to definitive conclusions about the benefits of many cannabinoids. They show so much promise for bettering our lives. For now, if you live in a state where recreational or medicinal cannabis is legal, you can freely experience these cannabinoids while you wait. If you love cannabis, have cannabis. It loves you right back. 

Emjay offers a broad selection of cannabis products ripe with a full buffet of cannabinoids, as well as vapes, edibles, extracts, and cannabis-based wellness products. If you know what you want, it’s as easy as a click of a button. We also have all the accessories you’ll need to enjoy them. We’ll deliver your cannabis products right to your door in as little as 30 minutes. 

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