Cannabinoids: What Are They and How do They Work?


Cannabis plants essentially produce compounds or substances that are referred to as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids have not been detected in other plants; that is why this is one big word that belongs in every weed enthusiast and medical marijuana user’s vocabulary. Cannabinoids, together with other significant compounds, such as terpenes, make cannabis those magnificent and potent benefits and effects.

If you want to know more about cannabinoids and how it works, we got you! This article will contain the basic information on cannabinoids, how the endocannabinoid system functions, the effects of cannabinoids on our body, its benefits, uses, and many more.

Cannabinoids – Basic Information

The first cannabinoids to be discovered was the ones that were derived from the Cannabis sativa or hemp plant. These substances are collectively referred to as phytocannabinoids, and numerous ones have already been identified and structurally characterized.

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemical compounds that are uniquely found in cannabis plants. They work through imitating endocannabinoids, which are naturally produced compounds, activated to maintain internal stability and health. These are chemicals that react with the endocannabinoid system of the human body, and they act upon through the cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2, commonly referred to as CB1 and CB2. The receptors’ stimulation provides an effect on the many different processes in our body, both mentally and physically.

Different types of cannabinoids work differently inside our bodies, which will depend on which receptor they bind to. A good example is the THC or tetrahydrocannabinol which binds to the receptors in the brain. On the other hand, the CBN or cannabinol has a stronger affinity towards CB2 receptors located throughout the body.

Endocannabinoid System

The ECS of the endocannabinoid system is a bodily system in human anatomy and other mammals. It is mostly composed of endocannabinoids with their respective receptors and important enzymes. The endocannabinoid system regulates various human functions that include sensation, sleep, appetite, memory, and others.

The three main components of the human endocannabinoid system include:

  • The endocannabinoids or endogenous cannabinoids are the molecules that bind to and activate particular cannabinoid receptors.
  • The cannabinoid receptors present on the cell surfaces that interact with cannabinoids.
  • Metabolic enzymes or proteins that digest the endocannabinoids after they have served their function.

The ECS, other than being a system for the cannabinoids, also plays an important role in helping the body achieve homeostasis or equilibrium. Homeostasis is important for our body to function very well; it is a balanced system resulting in a well-regulated and healthy functional zone. A good example is when your body has achieved homeostasis, your glucose load or blood sugar is optimal and ideal blood pressure. In a molecular level, the endocannabinoid system effectively helps the cell maintain homeostasis.

Cannabinoid Receptors in our System

Cannabinoid receptors are vastly present in our system, and they work like a sensor. Once a molecule or compound binds to them, they immediately collect data on the cell’s external conditions and eventually come up and start an appropriate cellular response in the body. Different cannabinoids produce different effects according to the type and the location of the receptor that they interact with.

There are two major cannabinoid receptors in the human body: the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptors are majorly prevalent in the central nervous system and the brain. The THC or tetrahydrocannabinol interacts with the CB1 receptors that result in a cannabis high sensation. The CB2 receptors are more in distribution outside the central nervous system, and they can be in the immune system, for instance.

Cannabinoids are not a hundred percent foreign since they also exist naturally within the human body. The cannabinoids that are unique to the human system are called endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids indeed work wonders throughout our body systems.

Effects of Cannabinoids on our Body

Cannabis plants do not directly produce cannabinoids, and these cannabinoid acids are concentrated in the cannabis resin. The cannabinoid acids need activation by heating or decarboxylation for the cannabinoids produced from the secretions of cannabinoid acid. To achieve cannabinoids effects towards our body, the user needs to smoke, vape, or cook the cannabis.

Cannabinoid generally plays in the regulation of pain, inflammation, modulation of vomiting and nausea, appetite changes, temperature control, psychological response and mood regulation that involves fear, stress, anxiety, and memory, sleeping patterns, and many more. Without the external factors applied, the body’s natural endocannabinoids still act on the cannabinoid receptors in a similar way to the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plants. A cannabinoid’s ability to produce a particular effect in the human system depends on the type of cannabinoid receptor to which it interacts.

As mentioned above, the CB1 receptors appear in greater concentrations in the brain or the CNS, while the CB2 receptors are mainly found in the immune and digestive systems. The contact and interaction with these major receptors and our endocannabinoids or those introduced to the body, such as hemp or marijuana, greatly influences all the processes and reactions affected by cannabinoids.

Our brain cells or neurons communicate by sending electrochemical signals to one another. These neurons communicate or listen to their counterparts to decide when to release a signal that triggers a response or a reaction. But our bodies have to be careful not to have effects that will be destructive to our system. Since neurons can be overloaded with a signal that might result in toxicity, the endocannabinoids then come in. Our naturally-occurring endocannabinoids allow receiver neurons to regulate how much input they’re getting effectively, and this is carried out by sending retrograde signals back to overactive sending neurons.

When consumed in moderate and safe amounts, plant cannabinoids truly have medicinal and psychoactive effects towards the human body. They effectively work because of our endocannabinoid system that they can interact with. A good example is that THC gets you high since it activates the CB1 receptor, but the human body is not constantly high. The main reason is that plant THC will not interact with CB1 receptors in the same way as the natural endocannabinoids. Our bodies have metabolic enzymes that quickly work to break down endocannabinoids so that THC will not stay or linger for a longer time.

While plant cannabinoids can activate the same cannabinoid receptors as the naturally-occurring endocannabinoids, they will also interact with several other receptors, therefore producing distinct and unique effects. Cannabinoids can also affect overall levels of endocannabinoids in the brain.

Despite the vast knowledge we have already acquired regarding cannabinoids, there are still certain limitations that exist, and truly we will need and appreciate more research on that. Nevertheless, the facts that we currently have is more than enough and is indeed a good start.

The Major Cannabinoid Acids and their Uses

CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)

The CBGA is the basic powerhouse of cannabis since it is the one that produces other three major cannabinoid lines which are the THCA, CBDA, and CBCA. Cannabigerolic acid is effective when it comes to helping in the treatment of diabetic complications such as cardiovascular disease. It is also effective in treating metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus and may also help control and treat colorectal cancer.

THCA (∆9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)

This acid is the non-intoxicating progenitor cannabinoid to THC. However, this acid is found in live and raw cannabis, and as the plant dies, THCA gradually converts to THC. Heat or decarboxylation hastens the conversion of THCA to THC. The notable uses of THCA include antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and anti-proliferative properties. Some people choose to consume THCA to consume products that have not undergone the decarboxylation process or have it raw or in smoothies.

CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)

The cannabidiolic acid is plenty in various types of live cannabis plants, and it converts to cannabidiol over time, especially when exposed to high temperatures. CBDA is known to relieve inflammation and pain; this acid is also an effective and potent anti-convulsive and effective in treating depression. For users who want to be able to consume more CBDA, choose tinctures, capsules, topicals, or transdermals.

CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)

The CBCA is the compound where CBC originates from, and this acid is mainly produced in the stalkless trichomes at a constant rate. CBCA still has little proven medicinal effects, but it contains antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-fungal properties.

THC (∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol)

The THC or 9-THC is undeniably the most famous cannabinoid around. THC is one of the few cannabinoids that produce a “high” that most people look for. This cannabinoid binds with the brain’s CB1 receptors, causing the release of more dopamine, eventually producing pleasant psychoactive effects.

CBD (Cannabidiol)

Cannabidiol is truly the most notable medicinal cannabinoid since this does not have psychoactive effects and can mitigate the cognitive side effects of THC. Its lack of psychoactive properties has also helped this cannabinoid achieve legal status in many countries worldwide. They do not only have medicinal effects; they can also improve your quality of life. The major uses of cannabidiol include the management of migraine, epilepsy, chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and many more. CBD has also proven some benefits during the postpartum period.

CBG (Cannabigerol)

The CBG is considered a minor cannabinoid that is present at very low levels. However, despite being a minor acid, the CBG has been proven to show some properties that can effectively reduce intraocular pressure, decrease inflammation, effective antibacterial properties, and inhibit muscle contractions.

CBC (Cannabichromene)

CBC is proven to be non-intoxicating since it binds weakly to CB1 receptors and certainly has therapeutic effects. Still, it has to work synergistically with other cannabinoids as part of the entourage effect. CBC can help alleviate pain, inflammation, and has remarkable properties that help in the treatment of depression.

CBN (Cannabinol)

The CBN is a mildly psychoactive cannabinoid that forms as a THC metabolite and is commonly found in aged cannabis plants. Cannabinol effectively provides pain relief, improves appetite, and has antibacterial, anticonvulsant, and anti-inflammatory properties.

CBGV (Cannabigerivarin)

This cannabinoid is a derivative of the CBG and has remarkable benefits and uses. CBGV contains pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties and can help patients who are undergoing cancer treatment. The cannabigerivarin is also effective in the treatment of skin conditions that causes drying and flaking.

THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin)

THCV is effective in stimulating the users and giving them a clear-headed buzz. Its therapeutic benefits include effective balancing of sugar and reducing insulin sensitivity; this is also an effective anti-nausea treatment and boasts anti-inflammatory effects. This cannabinoid is also great in reducing anxiety in PTSD patients.

CBDV (Cannabidivarin)

The cannabidivarin is similar in structure to CBD, and its major benefit is its mitigating effect on seizures. CBDV may also aid in neurobehavioral problems and can help in memory defects. It is also effective in reducing chronic inflammation and improve muscle function. This acid is also a powerful antiemetic and an anti-nausea compound.

CBCV (Cannabichromevarin)

There is still not much-gathered information about the CBCV, but this cannabinoid is known to have anticonvulsant properties and is an effective aiding treatment for epilepsy.

What else do we need to know?

Strain-Specific Effects

The effects of cannabis can vary dramatically depending on the strain. This variance is largely due to differing concentrations of cannabinoids. We delve into how these chemical profiles influence the potency and type of effects, offering insights into choosing the right strain for your needs.

Role in Integrative Medicine

Cannabinoids are gaining traction in integrative medicine, offering a natural alternative for pain management, mental health treatment, and overall wellness. We discuss how cannabinoids are being incorporated into holistic health practices.

Dosage and Administration Methods

From smoking and edibles to tinctures and topical applications, the methods of consuming cannabinoids are as varied as their effects. This section provides a guide on these methods, their onset times, and duration of effects.

Safety and Risks

While cannabinoids offer numerous benefits, it’s important to be aware of potential risks and side effects. We address safety concerns, particularly when cannabinoids are used in conjunction with other medications.

Regulatory Status and Quality Control

The legal status of cannabinoids varies globally. This part provides an overview of the regulatory landscape and stresses the importance of quality control in cannabinoid products.

User Testimonials and Case Studies

Real-life stories and case studies bring the world of cannabinoids to life, showcasing how individuals have utilized these compounds for health and wellness.

Future Prospects and Research Directions

The future of cannabinoid research is bright, with new therapeutic applications being explored. We highlight what lies ahead in this exciting field.

Infographics and Visual Aids

To enhance your understanding, we’ve included infographics depicting the endocannabinoid system, cannabinoid structures, and their effects on the body.


Cannabinoids can truly work wonders when used properly and following what you and your body need. The world of cannabinoids is vast and diverse, and we hope that this article has helped you learn so much about them, including its components, functions, and its effects on the human body. Cannabinoids have plenty of benefits, and you just need to know what your desired effects are so you’ll be able to pick the right strain or the right composition for you.