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What Are Cannabinoids?

Simply put, cannabinoids are the chemical compounds that make up cannabis. The most commonly talked about cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) but there are over 150 cannabinoids identified.

cannabinoids thc cbd pacific costal cannabis
THC and CBD chemical compounds


The endocannabinoid system (also known as ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system within our bodies. It has a role in regulating things like sleep, mood, appetite, and memory. The ECS is active in every body, whether using cannabis or not. There are 3 components to the endocannabinoid system; endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.


Endocannabinoids form part of the body’s endocannabinoid system and cannabinoids work in tandem with this system. There are a group of chemical receptors found in the brain and nervous systems of mammals which naturally produce cannabinoids similar to those found in cannabis. These receptors are tied to a number of of physiological processes such as mood, appetite, memory, pain, sensations, and psychoactive perception.

There are two key endocannabinoids that have been identified so far:

  • anandamide (AEA)

  • 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)

These help keep internal functions running smoothly and are produced in the body as needed.


There are two type of receptors to pay attention to, CB1 receptor and CB2 receptor. CB1 receptors, which are responsible for psychoactive properties, are mostly found on nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. They are the receptors that interact with THC to get people high. CB2 receptors are responsible for many of the benefits we experience physically and are located in the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands, and reproductive organs.

Endocannabinoids bind to either of these receptors and the effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.

The Endocannabinoid System Pacific Coastal Cannabis
The Endocannabinoid System

Metabolic Enzymes

Metabolic enzymes are responsible for quickly breaking down endocannabinoids once they are finished their function. Two main enzymes responisble for this are:

  • FAAH or Fatty Acid Amid Hydrolase which breaks down AEA

  • MAGL or Monoacylglycerol Acid Lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG

These two enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids get used when they are needed but not for

longer than necessary. This process distinguishes endocannabinoids from many other molecular signals in the body, such as hormones or classical neurotransmitters.


Cannabinoids can be broken down into 3 basic categories:

  1. Endocannabinoids which can be found in the bodies of mammal, including humans

  2. Phytocannabinoids which are found in cannabis plants, as well as some other plants.

  3. Synthetic cannabinoids that are created in laboratories.


As mentioned above, endocannabinoids form part of the body’s endocannabinoid system and cannabinoids work in tandem with the ECS. Endocannabinoids are similar to cannabinoids except they are produced by your body.


Cannabis represents the most abundant and diverse source of phytocannabinoids on the planet with more than 150 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

Cannabis doesn't produce cannabinoids directly, rather they produce cannabinoid acids such as THCA and CBDA that must be activated to become THC and CBD. The process to release those acids is called decarboxylation and it can be done either through the drying process or through heating. For example, when you light a joint you are converting THCA into THC, or when you bake flower to create cannabutter. You won't get high off THCA, but you will of THC.

Cannabinoids are not just found in cannabis, they are actually found in other plants such as black pepper, echinacea, cacao, flax seed, and black truffle. These compounds are not the same as the cannabinoids found in cannabis, but are cannabimimetic—they can induce effects similar to cannabis’ cannabinoids by effecting the cannabinoid receptors.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are not produced naturally by plants or mammals but through chemical processes. the safety of certain synthetic cannabinoids is questionable as they can have detrimental effects on consumers, causing anxiety, paranoia, and impaired brain function.

While cannabinoids grown from yeast are structurally and chemically the same as those that appear in cannabis, they’re technically synthetic because they are the product of genetic engineering.


There are 4 basic phytocannabinoid families:

  • THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)

  • CBD (Cannabidiol)

  • CBG (Cannabigerol)

  • CBC (Cannabichromene)

CBN (Cannabinol) is also considered a primary cannabinoid but is not a phytocannabinoid because it is not produced by the plant but rather a breakdown of THC when exposed to oxygen.

THC and CBD are definitely the two most talked about cannabinoids but you may start to see more products on the market that include CBN, CBG, and CBC.

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