Guide to Cannabinoids: Understanding the Endocannabinoid System

Guide to Cannabinoids: Understanding the Endocannabinoid System

We often hear the term “cannabinoids” when talking or reading about CBD. CBD is an abbreviation for cannabidiol, which comes from the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant contains a plethora of intricate cannabinoids, one of which is CBD.

Other cannabinoids include Delta-9 THC, the infamous psychoactive element in marijuana, and less popular ones like Delta-8 THC, CBN, CBG, CBDA, and CBGA. In this article, we’ll go over exactly what cannabinoids are, what each one is, and how they affect the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). 

What are Cannabinoids?

According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, the term cannabinoids “refers to every chemical substance, regardless of structure or origin, that joins the cannabinoid receptors of the body and brain and that have similar effects to those produced by the Cannabis Sativa plant.” In short, cannabinoids are any derivative of the hemp plant that affects your body and mind. 

How Many Cannabinoids Are There?

There are at least 113 cannabinoids, but we only see a handful of those in mass production. The two most famous cannabinoids are CBD and THC. CBD refers to the compound that does not get the user high and is usually used to treat anxiety, depression, ADHD, minor pain relief, PTSD, and others.

While THC can also help manage all those things, the main reason for using THC is to experience a blissful psychoactive high. You may see some CBD products that contain CBN and CBG, but those are generally more expensive and more difficult to find. 

Benefits of Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids have a number of benefits, some of which you may be familiar with thanks to marijuana. Since cannabinoids are responsible for how the body reacts to movement, pain, memory, and appetite, regular consumption of cannabinoids can improve many ailments. Some research indicates that cannabinoids can “reduce anxiety, inflammation, and pain”.

The studies go on to prove cannabinoids can control unpleasant side effects caused by chemotherapy, kill cancer cells and slow tumor growth, relax tight muscles (especially those with M.S.), and stimulate appetite and improve weight gain (especially in people suffering from cancer and AIDS). also states that cannabinoids can help improve muscle control for those with Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, control seizures, help treat PTSD, anxiety, managing bipolar disorder, and others, and help those struggling with smoking cessation.  

Types of Cannabinoids

There are five main cannabinoids that are used in the industry, each with different uses and purposes. You may recognize some of these or none of these. CBD and THC are the two cannabinoids that many are familiar with, but CBN, CBG, and CBDA are growing in popularity every day. Let’s take a look at these cannabinoids and learn about their uses. 

Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD, short for cannabidiol, has gained popularity in the last few years as a healing drug, with all the same qualities of THC sans the high. CBD binds with the CB2 receptors located throughout the body and produces more of a physiological effect rather than a psychological one.

According to, CBD can help improve your sleep, increase your appetite, and reduce stress. Since CBD contains less than 0.3% THC in either broad or full-spectrum, it is safe and there are ways to use CBD without fear of getting high.

Cannabinol (CBN)

This particular cannabinoid actually does contain psychoactive elements, just like THC, but in much fewer quantities. CBN, an abbreviation for cannabinol, comes from the same acid as THC. However, CBN only manifests when THC is exposed to oxygen. If a batch of marijuana is left unused for too long, THC will decrease, and CBN will increase.

Since CBN is still very new, there is still much research required to fully understand how CBN affects the ECS. In early studies, CBN has been shown as an effective treatment for people with sleep problems and arthritis. CBN is found in very small quantities in popular hemp strains. Thus, more tests will be needed to harness the full potential of this psychoactive cannabinoid. 

Cannabigerol (CBG)

You may see this particular cannabinoid combined with CBD in a single product. It is much less popular than CBD at the moment, but that could change soon. Just like CBD, it’s is non-psychoactive and is available in minute levels. Some sites state claimes that CBG is particularly useful in treating Crohn’s disease, IBS, glaucoma, and cancerous tumor growth. 

Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)

CBDA, short for cannabidiolic acid, is a relatively new cannabinoid. It was first isolated in 1996 but is most commonly found in the raw and unprocessed cannabis plant. According to, CBDA is “a precursor chemical to CBD, which is similar, but not acidic.”

As the cannabis plant is processed, the CBDA chemical is transformed into CBD. The heating, curing, and drying processes allow the acidic CBDA to be broken down into new chemicals. However, you’ll find great quantities of CBDA in raw and unprocessed cannabis (i.e., raw hemp oil).

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Probably the most famous cannabinoid in the industry, THC remains one of the only cannabinoids that can get the user high. THC binds with the CB1 receptor, found in the brain and nervous system. Its reaction is commonly known to produce happy emotions, such as relaxation, laughter, and elation.

Furthermore, when used for medical purposes, THC aids with mood swings, pain relief, and digestion. Modern advances include treating epilepsy, sleep apnea, HIV, and Parkinson’s. While you may dismiss THC for all the negative flak it’s gotten over the years, THC is making strong strides to become legal throughout the United States, both medicinally and recreationally. 

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

The endocannabinoid system is a marvelous system that regulates your memory, appetite, mood, and sleep. This system contains naturally occurring cannabinoids that form pathways and receptors throughout your body. The endocannabinoid system features two main receptors that are responsible for different functions. 

CB1 Receptors

The CB1 receptors are predominantly located in your central nervous system. 

CB2 Receptors

The CB2 receptors are located in your peripheral nervous system, predominantly in your immune cells. 

Endocannabinoids are able to bind to either of these receptors. However, the reaction largely depends on which endocannabinoid binds to which receptor and where that receptor is located in the body. 

What are the Common Effects of Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids primarily affect the central nervous system, particularly the brain and the nerves. Very few of these cannabinoids affect your brain on a psychoactive level, the most notable one being THC. THC is found in each one of these cannabinoids (save for the THC in marijuana) but in extremely low levels of less than 0.3%. The most common effects are relaxation and pain relief, but some people can experience nausea, dizziness, and anxiety. 

Final Thoughts

The endocannabinoid system is a wide-reaching system that is a powerful tool within our bodies. Cannabinoids react within our ECS to create feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief. Some of these cannabinoids are combined with others for a stronger effect (known as the entourage effect). Some people react differently to these cannabinoids. So, it’s always advisable to start off with small quantities to see how your body reacts.

If starting a cannabinoid regimen for the first time, you should always consult your primary care physician. Cannabinoids are still being studied to understand their full potential and long-term effects, but they’re more than just insignificant parts of a plant. They’re real and effective homeopathic alternatives to modern medicine and continue to make strides in pain management, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. 

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