The depth and breadth of cannabis are still being plumbed. Believe it or not, there are over 113 cannabinoids in this wonder plant and scientists are still trying to understand how they all work both by themselves and together. These compounds interact with our endocannabinoid system (bet you didn’t know you had one of those, huh?) which consists of a constellation of cell receptors and molecules scattered throughout our bodies. This complex system is involved in many aspects of our wellbeing: memory, stress and pain response, sleep, appetite, energy balance and metabolism, and immune function to name a few. This system interacts with both the endocannabinoids that naturally occur in our systems and the cannabinoids that are found in cannabis. So just what are these compounds and why do our bodies love them so much? Let’s dive in, shall we?

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)

THC is what most people think of and reach for when buying cannabis. We’ve all heard that this is the compound that gets people high and keeps them there, but there’s more to this chemical than meets the high. Even though CBD (more on that later) is usually the cannabinoid that’s most associated with therapeutic benefits, THC may also have a positive impact on things like insomnia, inflammation and more. THC is a psychoactive compound that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system and brain. However, too much THC is not necessarily a great thing. Always go low and start slow when first trying a high THC product. Everyone’s body chemistry is unique and can react in negative ways to different strains.

THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)

This is the form the plant makes, which is then converted to THC during the aging process or when smoked or vaped. Even though these molecules are very similar, THCA is non-psychoactive and plays a very different role than THC in the body. This compound exists in both fresh and dried cannabis flower buds mainly but also leaves. THCA potentially has a whole host of benefits and is still being studied to more fully understand its role in the human body.

THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin)

THCV is a fairly rare psychoactive cannabinoid that may affect how THC interacts with the body. Some studies have shown that THCV may be good for aiding glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity and might even have a more euphoric effect than THC, but further research is needed before we can draw any solid conclusions about this elusive cannabinoid. It occurs in small amounts in some varieties–growers are definitely working on selecting for strains that have higher levels of this so it can be studied further!

CBD (cannabidiol)

Other than THC, CBD is probably the most well-known cannabinoid on the block. It can be found in “CBD-rich strains” which typically contain varying amounts of THC–these are regulated within the legal state’s cannabis markets and medical patients typically seek out specific ratios that work for their conditions. Another common source for pure CBD is industrial hemp, which contains essentially zero THC. Similar to THC, it is the degradation product of CBDA, which is the form the plant makes. However, it’s quite different from THC in many ways, one main one being that it’s non-psychoactive. It may also have multiple therapeutic benefits and is used in many formulations like oral tinctures. CBD may work best when paired with some THC (even very tiny amounts of THC present have been shown to allow CBD to work better). It’s also good to know that this compound counteracts some of the “high” of THC when they’re consumed together.

There are many more cannabinoids to explore and this brief summary of four compounds has barely scratched the surface of this amazing plant. More research and study is required to uncover all of the benefits of our pure golden goodness and we’re looking forward to learning more about the intricacies of our beautiful plants.