When it comes to cannabinoids, THC and CBD usually get all of the attention. That’s because these compounds are responsible for the majority of the psychoactive and therapeutic effects of cannabis.
But the cannabis plant contains nearly 500 chemical compounds, over 100 of which are cannabinoids. With more evidence beginning to emerge for the entourage effect, both consumer and research interest is shifting from THC and CBD towards lesser-known cannabinoids.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are a diverse class of both synthetic and naturally-occurring compounds named for their abundance in cannabis. Phytocannabinoids, like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), are specific cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, but there are other types of cannabinoids too.
We produce our own endogenous cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids. Anandamide is perhaps the most well known.
All phytocannabinoids are secondary metabolites. Secondary metabolites are produced by bacteria, fungi, and plants. They’re not absolutely necessary for survival like primary metabolites. And in plants, they usually play an important role in self-defense against herbivores. Throughout human history, we’ve found ways to use secondary metabolites like phytocannabinoids as medicines, flavorings, and recreational substances.
When ingested, phytocannabinoids act on the endocannabinoid system. This is a biological system that helps keep our bodies in homeostasis by regulating a wide variety of processes like sleep, mood, memory, appetite, inflammation, and the immune response.
Cannabis works because phytocannabinoids mimic the effects of our own endocannabinoid system. To learn more about the science of cannabis, check out our comprehensive resource article on the topic.
The Lesser-Known Cannabinoids
CBD and THC are the most well known and studied phytocannabinoids. But there are over a hundred cannabinoid compounds in cannabis.
Here are some of the most common but lesser-known cannabinoids:
- Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA) is the precursor to THC and found in high concentrations in cannabis flower. When heated, THCA becomes decarboxylated, creating THC. Unlike THC, THCA is not intoxicating, but it can still have powerful anti-nausea effects.
- Similar to THCA, Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA) is the precursor to CBD found in cannabis flower. CBDA is typically found in higher concentrations in hemp. When heated, CBDA is converted to CBD. One study showed that CBDA inhibits cell migration in aggressive breast cancer.
- Cannabinol (CBN) forms when THC is degraded and is often found in older cannabis plants. When combined with THC, CBN is highly sedative. That’s why timing your cannabis harvest is crucial to getting the right effect. Studies have demonstrated that CBN has anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial effects.
- Cannabigerol (CBG) is a pretty amazing compound. The acid form of CBG, CBGA, is the precursor to THCA, CBDA, and many other phytocannabinoids. It’s also a strong anti-bacterial agent and has potential as an analgesic and antidepressant.
With the concept of the entourage effect gaining traction, consumers are increasingly interested in the cannabinoid content of strains beyond THC and CBD. With over 100 different cannabinoid compounds, cannabis has a lot to offer. That’s why cannabinoid profiling is so important. At Encore Labs, we offer comprehensive cannabis testing including cannabinoid testing.