What are cannabinoids exactly? To put it simply, they are the chemical compounds that make up cannabis. There are over 150 cannabinoids and they can be broken down into 3 main groups; phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids. Within those groups are 5 primary cannabinoids:
Isolated and discovered in Israel in 1964, THC has become the cannabinoid that gets all the attention. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis and interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS) by producing a sense of euphoria or "high."
It's molecular structure is made up of 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms and 2 oxygen atoms. Coincidentally this is also the same molecular structure of CBD, although they are arranged different. THCs molecular structure actually fits perfectly in the CB1 receptors and mimics the effects of the endocannabinoid anandamide which signals the brain to release dopamine, thus the high.
When looking at products in a store, it's easy to over simplify and think that a high THC content is the only thing to look for. But the effects of THC can vary when combined with other cannabinoids and terpenes, this is called the "Entourage Effect." Finding the right balance of cannabinoid and terpene percentages can really help hone in on the type of cannabis experience you're looking for. That being said, if it all becomes overwhelming, ask your budtender what they'd recommend and you'll always find something good.
CBD first starting gaining serious attention around 2012 when a young girl with Dravet syndrome named Charlotte Figi was prescribed a high CBD tincture to help manage her seizures, having an average of 300 a week. After using the CBD tincture her seizures reduced dramatically to two or three per month. Two Colorado cultivators developed a high CBD strain for Charlotte called Charlottes Web.
CBD is psychoactive but non-intoxicating, unlike THC. It doesn't produce the "high" but can help with a broad range of medical benefits due to the way it interacts with various receptors. In fact, CBD interacts with more receptors than THC. Those receptors include CB1 and CB2, G-protein cannabinoid receptors (GPR18 & GPR55) as well as the vanilloid receptor TRPV1. Where THC binds to the CB1 receptor orthosterically (meaning its binding at the active site ) CBD binds allosterically (meaning it binds elsewhere on the protein surface). Simply put, CBD changes how THC affects the body by reducing psychoactive effects and preserving therapeutic benefits. This can be balancing the euphoric or sedative effects of THC.
There is a common misconception with CBD that it comes only from indica plants because of the sedative effects CBD can have. The truth is that CBD can come from cannabis or hemp and any strain type. Most indicas often have low CBD content and the sedative effects are likely due to the strains high levels of the terpene myrcene.
CBG is considered the "mother of all cannabinoids" because many cannabinoids (including THCA and CBDA) start out as CBGA. As the plant nears the end of its grow cycle and absorbs more UV light the CBGA starts to break down and convert to THCA and CBDA. It's the third most prevalent cannabinoid after THCA and CBDA.
CBG predominately interacts with receptors other than those found in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). It can still bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors and counteracts the effects of other cannabinoids, such as THC. Although it binds to these receptors, it's a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that offers an array of benefits.
CBC is derived from CBGA, after exposure to UV light and heat, it changes from CBGA to CBCA then finally to CBC. It doesn't bind well with the CB receptors, but binds with the vanilloid receptor 1 (TPRV1) and transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1), both receptors are linked to pain. CBC activates these receptors, increased levels of the body's natural endocannabinoids are released.
There are many medical benefits to CBC but there is still a need for more research into this cannabinoid.
CBD is not like the other cannabinoid families as it is not a phytocannabinoid but rather a result of oxidized THC. Historically when cannabis has high CBN levels it is a result of improper storage which has allowed the cannabis to be exposed to oxygen degrading the THC content. You can also turn THC into CBN when using too much heat to decarboxylate cannabis for edibles. CBN is known for its sedative effects but often that is because it still has some THC content. When paired with THC, CBN can increase the euphoric effects. Pure CBN is non-intoxicating and not sedative.