What are cannabinoids?

4 min read

What are cannabinoids?

Interested in learning more about cannabis and cannabinoids? 

Cannabinoids are a collection of active compounds which are found in the cannabis plant. You may be surprised to learn that there are several different compounds in marijuana that all play different roles. Terpenes provide flavor and aroma, chlorophyll which is found in the leaves makes the plant green. The most important compound of all, however, is the many different cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are what gives the cannabis plant it's medicinal and recreational properties that has so many people excited! You may already know about the main cannabinoids, CBD and THC, but there are many other cannabinoids that are equally important.

What are cannabinoids?

There could be as many as 113 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. The most researched of these cannabinoids is by far CBD and THC. The cannabinoids in the marijuana plant are stored in the trichomes, or crystals of the cannabis plant. It’s the trichomes in the cannabis buds which give it that shiny or sparkly look. Most growers focus on producing strains of cannabis with high levels of the THC cannabinoid. It’s THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol that is responsible for the euphoric ‘high’ feeling you get when you consume marijuana. The other main cannabinoid is CBD, or cannabidiol works against THC to counteract that high. CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive properties and is 100% legal in many countries around the world. Some of the other exciting cannabinoids are cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabichromene (CBC).

The endocannabinoid system and how It works

Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids which are naturally produced by our bodies. The word ‘endo’ stands for endogenous, that means originating within the body. These cannabinoids are different than the cannabinoids found in cannabis, but they share similar effects and properties. They interact with the same pathways in our bodies, brains, and the central nervous system. These pathways are known as receptors. The most studied and understood endocannabinoids are the anandamide and 2-AG. Some of the other endocannabinoids are noladin ether, virodhamine, and N-arachidonyl dopamine (NADA). The consensus among most scientists is that these endocannabinoids are responsible for maintaining balance within the body.

The endocannabinoid system is made up of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. The cannabinoids are like keys. They bind to the cannabinoid receptor, unlocking it, and this causes changes to how the cells function. These changes lead to a variety of different effects throughout our bodies. When you consume cannabis, THC and CBD enter the endocannabinoid system and bind to the cannabinoid receptors. The two types of cannabinoid receptors are CB1 and CB2. Most of the CB1 receptors are found in the brain. It’s the CB1 receptors which THC binds too. CB2 receptors are more spread out through the body, and it’s these receptors which CBD binds too.

What are the major cannabinoids?

There are two main varieties of cannabinoids. There are endogenous cannabinoids which are produced naturally by our bodies, and the exogenous cannabinoids which are known as phytocannabinoids because they originate from plants. The cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are known as phytocannabinoids.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) 

This is the most common cannabinoid associated with marijuana. It can be found in concentrations of up to 30-40% in the cannabis plant.

Cannabidiol (CBD) 

The next major cannabinoid found in the marijuana plant is CBD. It has no psychoactive properties and actually works to lower the effects of THC.

Cannabinol (CBN) 

CBN isn’t produced by the cannabis plant. CBN is a result of THC which hasn’t been stored correctly. When THC is exposed to excessive light or heat, the chemical structure changes and it becomes CBN.

Cannabichromene (CBC) 

In some strains, CBC can be the second most prevalent cannabinoid behind THC. CBC is like CBD as it doesn’t bind well to the CB1 receptors in the brain which means that it has no psychoactive properties.

Cannabigerol (CBG) 

CBG acts as a foundation for all the cannabinoids found in marijuana. Through the enzymatic process, CBG acts as a foundation for the other cannabinoids to build off.

2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) 

2-AG is an endocannabinoid that activates the CB1 receptors which are located in the brain. 2-AG is produced by our bodies as required and then metabolized after use.


Anandamide is another endocannabinoid that is found mostly in our bodies. Many scientists believe that anandamide is responsible for that ‘high’ many people experience after they workout. It plays a major role in our moods and how we feel.

Cannabinoids in conclusion

Cannabinoids are a very diverse group of different molecules which all share common character traits with each other. Marijuana produces over 113 different cannabinoids, the benefits or side effects of which have yet to be discovered. Endocannabinoids are produced naturally by our bodies. All these different compounds interact with the endocannabinoid system, binding with our CB1 and CB2 receptors. It’s these interactions with our endocannabinoid system which produce different reactions. All of which can have positive effects on our health and wellbeing.

There is a growing rise in the legalization of cannabis around the world, both for recreational and medicinal use. It’s this change in attitude which is fueling the innovation across the medical and pharmaceutical industries and allowing scientists to discover more and more about cannabinoids and how they react with the endocannabinoid system.

This article was written by an independent and third-party author specialising in CBD, hemp and cannabis research. Any opinion, advice or recommendation expressed in the article does not reflect the opinion of Formula Swiss AG or any of our employees. We do not make any claims about any of our products and refer to our disclaimer for more information.

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