What Are Cannabinoids?
Inside the fascinating universe of cannabis compounds.
From the euphoric heights of THC to the chilled-out calm of CBD, cannabinoids hold the key to understanding the surprisingly complex cannabis plant.
While cannabinoids have been studied since the ’60s, more and more discoveries have surfaced about these unique molecules and their effects. Here’s everything you need to know about cannabinoids.
What are cannabinoids?
Imagine a molecular house party where each guest brings a unique vibe. That’s essentially what cannabinoids are like; they’re all present in the cannabis plant but each one boasts a specific chemical structure, influencing how it interacts with the body and mind. Some, like THC, act as social butterflies, binding to receptors in the brain and sparking that “high” feeling. Others, like CBD, play the introvert, offering a more subtle, calming effect. While sleepy CBN might just be your express route to bedtime.
But, like any good gathering, how each molecule interacts is also key. Cannabinoids are team players, often working together to amplify or mitigate each other’s effects—sort of like the way eating tomatoes (full of vitamin C) with spinach helps your body absorb more iron. It’s this type of subtle interplay that creates the diverse spectrum of experiences associated with cannabis, from giggly euphoria to peaceful focus.
When were cannabinoids discovered?
While the use of cannabis dates back millennia, an increased scientific understanding of its active ingredients can be traced back to the ‘60s. This boost in knowledge surrounding THC’s psychoactive properties paved the way for the discovery of other cannabinoids, like THCa and CBG (more about those later), and the eventual recognition of the body’s endocannabinoid system.
This intricate biological network helps regulate and balance a wide range of functions, including promoting a range of moods and sensations—and cannabinoids interact with it like keys in a door, unlocking and influencing these various states.
What are the most common cannabinoids on the market today?
There are more than 100 known cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, and some are much more common than others. Here's a quick snapshot of some of today’s key cannabinoids:
✦ THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol): The star of the show, THC is responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana, and may promote feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception. The two key types are Delta-9 THC (generally considered more potent and psychoactive), and Delta-8 THC (often described as producing a milder, more clear-headed high).
✦ THCa (Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid): The precursor to THC, THCa converts directly to psychoactive THC when it’s heated or smoked.
✦ THC-P (Tetrahydrocannabinol): Generally believed to be a more potent analog of THC, THC-P may have stronger psychoactive effects and may result in a more intense high.
✦ THC-V (Tetrahydrocannabivarin): Sometimes referred to as “diet weed,” THC-V is structurally similar to THC and has been said to act as an appetite suppressant.
✦ CBD (Cannabidiol): THC’s chill counterpart, CBD is known for its ability to promote feelings of relaxation and may help loosen the body and mind.
✦ CBN (Cannabinol): A sleepy-feeling cannabinoid, CBN is generally considered less potent than THC and is often found in aged cannabis.
✦ CBG (Cannabigerol): Referred to as the “mother,” CBG is the precursor molecule for many other cannabinoids.
✦ CBC (Cannabichromene): A non-psychoactive cannabis compound, CBC may function as the “glue” that binds other cannabinoids together.
✦ HHC (Hexahydrocannabinol): A derivative cannabinoid structurally similar to THC, HHC is thought to have psychoactive effects similar to THC, although the potency and specific effects may differ.
✦ HHC-P (Hexahydrocannabinol Phenylpropanoid): Another derivative compound that may have psychoactive effects similar to THC, though the specifics are still largely unknown.
So, what are terpenes?
Terpenes are the fragrant oils found in a variety of plants including cannabis, fruits, and herbs. They’re responsible for the dizzying array of scents and flavors we enjoy in cannabis, from the piney smell of Christmas trees to the citrusy zest of oranges and the funky skunk of hops. They’re also good for plants: Terpenes can act as natural pesticides that help repel insects, protect the plant from disease, and attract pollinators.
Terpenes and cannabinoids can often work together in a synergistic way called the “entourage effect.” This means they can enhance or modify each other's effects, potentially boosting the benefits of cannabis.
Does THCa show up on a Drug Test?
THC will show up on drug tests, while CBD typically doesn’t. However, depending on the type of test and the specific product you’re using, there’s always a possibility of a positive result. It’s also impossible to pinpoint an exact timeframe for how long cannabinoids stay in your system, because it depends on a variety of factors. These can include the following:
✦ The type of cannabinoid: THC stays detectable longer than CBD, for example.
✦ The method of consumption: Smoking is usually detectable faster than edibles.
✦ Your frequency of use: Regular users show traces for longer than occasional users.
✦ Your metabolism and body fat: Faster metabolisms clear out cannabinoids quicker, and fat stores THC for longer.
✦ How hydrated you are: Drinking plenty of water helps flush out cannabinoids.
Generally, you can expect cannabinoids to linger in your saliva for up to 24 hours, one to two days in your bloodstream, three to 30 days in urine, and up to 90 days in hair. These are just estimates, though, and individual cases can vary significantly.
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