Cannabinoids: definition, effects, benefits. List of all Cannabinoids

You must have heard of the good or bad effects of marijuana.

But, Have you ever wondered how a simple-looking marijuana plant holds so many different effects?

Scientists attributed these effects to small naturally occurring chemical compounds found in the Cannabis Sativa plant. These compounds are named cannabinoids/phytocannabinoids. There are over 400 cannabinoids, of which 120 are known as cannabinoids. Only a few of these compounds produce an intoxicating effect. Some other rare cannabinoids are difficult to isolate and have enormous potential to be used for their medicinal benefits in consumer products.

Effects of cannabinoids on the human body

Now that you are aware of the term cannabinoids and associated benefits, you must be wondering how these small chemical compounds produce such a strong effect in the body?

The answer to this question lies in the “Endocannabinoids system (ECS)” present in the body. Cannabinoids bind cannabinoids receptors in the body to produce an effect. There are two types of cannabinoids receptors; CB1 and CB2 receptors present on the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nervous system, urinary tract, reproductive tract, GIT, and immune system. Cannabinoids regulate various body functions by binding receptors on these organs and systems.

Benefits of cannabinoids

The cannabis plant has a long history of use as a recreational and medicinal drug. The first medicinal property of the cannabis plant was reported in 1980. This discovery of the first medicinal property led to the curiosity that discovered the various therapeutic potential of cannabinoids. Studies found the possibility of cannabinoids to cure multiple pathological conditions, including epilepsies, neuropathic pain, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, glaucoma, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer.

Cannabinoids are also a part of the cosmetics industry owing to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A variety of non-psychoactive cannabinoids are also used in manufacturing different edibles.

List of all existing cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are classified into phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids based on their origin.

1. Phytocannabinoids

Plant-derived cannabinoids are known as phytocannabinoids. Most of these phytocannabinoids are not directly made in the cannabis plant but are produced by the decarboxylation of other cannabinoids. A list of phytocannabinoids include


Although cannabigerol is present only in minor quantities in the plant, it is regarded as the mother of all cannabinoids.

  • Purpose; CBG has significant importance due to CBGA. CBGA is an acidic form of CBG and parent of all other cannabinoids.
  • Effect on human health; CBG imitates the activity of endocannabinoids in the body and regulates various physiological processes, including appetite, mood, memory, sleep, and fertility.
  • Application; CBG has enormous potential that helped it enter various pharmaceutical and consumer industries such as food, nutraceutical, and cosmetic industries.
  • Method to obtain; CBG is challenging to get from the cannabis plant therefore regarded as the most high-end cannabinoid. The concentration of CBG in the cannabis plant decreases as the plant ages. Cultivation yields only a minute quantity of this cannabinoid, while biosynthesis from yeast can produce 100% organic, pure, and pharmaceutical-grade CBG at a low cost.


CBN is one of the most therapeutically essential cannabinoids. It is often named “sleep cannabinoid.” CBN concentration in the cannabis plant ranges between 0.1 and 1.6%.

  • Purpose; CBN is one of the most popular cannabinoids which is often used in oil formulation for various therapeutic purposes. Cannabinolic acid (CBNA) is an acidic form of CBN expected to have effects similar to CBN.
  • Effect on human health; Initially, cannabinol was considered an inactive cannabinoid. Later on, the researchers found the therapeutic efficacy of cannabinol. Compared to THC, it has twice a lower affinity for CB1 receptors and three times higher affinity for CB2 receptors.
  • Application; CBN can be used in neurological conditions, bacterial infections, glaucoma, and appetite suppression. It is also used as a constituent of various cosmetics and food products.
  • The method of obtaining; Natural harvesting, chemical synthesis, and biosynthesis are well-known methods of obtaining this cannabinoid.

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA)

THCA is often confused with THC. THC is a psychoactive compound, while its acidic form THCA is not a psychoactive compound.

  • Purpose; THCA is directly derived from CBG, which is considered the mother of all cannabinoids. Different strains of the cannabis plant have different concentrations of THCA in them. On decarboxylation, THCA produces THC, which is notorious for getting you high.
  • Effect on human health; Unlike THC, this compound has a 3-D shape due to its different carboxylic group that prevents the compound from producing an intoxicating effect when binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors.
  • Application; Various preliminary research studies found THCA to have anti-inflammatory, antiemetic, anti-proliferative, anti-spasmodic, and neuroprotective effects. THCA is also available as a tea, infusion, or topical formulation.
  • The method of obtaining; THCA is hard to extract from plants due to minute quantity. However, biosynthesis has provided a most efficient and environmentally friendly approach to produce THCA. Biosynthetic THCA has replaced chemical synthesis, which makes a large number of byproducts.

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)

THCV is a minor phytocannabinoid and structural analog of THC.

  • Purpose; THCV is present in a minor quantity in the cannabis plant. It is produced from THCVA, i.e., an acidic form of THCV. THCVA is a product of a chemical reaction that converts CBGA into THCVA. The potential medical benefits of THCV have increased its consumer demand.
  • Effect on human health; On the CB1 receptor, THCV acts as a reverse agonist/antagonist. While on the CB2 receptor, it may serve as either agonist or antagonist. The exact binding mechanism of THCV on CB2 is unknown.
  • Application; Various orthopedic pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other consumer industries are interested in manufacturing THCV-based products.
  • The method of obtaining; Natural harvesting from cannabis plants, chemical synthesis, and biosynthesis is the most well-known method of obtaining THCV.

Other phytocannabinoids of the cannabis plant include CBD, CBGV, CBDV, and CBC.

2. Synthetic cannabinoids

Man-made psychoactive chemicals are known as synthetic cannabinoids. These chemicals are sprayed on plant material and produce THC-like effects. These compounds are classified under new psychoactive substances (NPS) and are also known as spice or K2. Three major categories of synthetic cannabinoids include aminoalkylindoles, classical cannabinoids, and cyclohexylphenols.

Based on structure, synthetic cannabinoids are divided into naphthoylindoles, phenlacetylindoles, cyclohexylphenols, tetramethylcyclopropyl indoles, indole, and indazole carboxamides, and quinolinyl ester.

A few synthetic cannabinoids include.


These belong to the class of aminoalkylindoles, which is considered the most prevalent synthetic cannabinoid. JWH-018 is the most commonly known naphthoylindoles. Other JWH series compounds include JWH-004, JWH-007, JWH-009, JWH-015, and JWH-016.

  • Purpose: These compounds were prepared to study the cannabinoids receptor.
  • Application; JWH compounds are well-known for their analgesic effects in neuropathic pain, cancer, and arthritis.
  • Effect on human health; JWH-018 and other famous compounds of naphthoylindoles class act as an agonist on CB1 and CB2 receptors. JHW-018 and other compounds mimic natural hormones such as 2-AG and anandamide (AEA).
  • The method of obtaining; Naphthoylindoles compounds are chemically synthesized in the presence of ether.


Naphthylmethylindoles are also aminoalkylindoles. JWH-176 is the most well-known compound of this class. Others include JWH-194, JWH-195, JWH-196.

  • Purpose; Naphthylmethylindoles are analgesic drugs. JWH-176 of this class is more potent than THC.
  • Effect on human health; These compounds act as cannabinoids agonists by relying merely on weak forces, i.e., Van der Waal forces.
  • Application; The compound is used for its psychosis and analgesic effects.
Biomedican- Cosmetics

Classical cannabinoids include THC, nabilone, and HU series while cyclohexylphenol (CP) comes under non-classical cannabinoids.

Future of cannabinoids

Advancement in cannabinoids research has given high hopes to the pharmaceutical cannabinoids industry. The global market of cannabinoids has crossed billion dollars and expected to grow at fast pace in upcoming years. Moreover, increasing consumer demand for cannabinoids products is also playing a significant role in cannabis industry growth. However, conventional methods to get cannabinoids are not efficient enough to fulfill the demand for cannabinoids in the market. Therefore, Biomedican has developed a biosynthetic platform to efficiently produce cannabinoids that can satisfy market requirements at a reduced cost.

Saba IqbalAuthor posts

Dr. Saba Iqbal is a contributing writer for BioMedican. She's a clinical pharmacist turned writer. Dr. Saba's education includes a doctoral degree in pharmacy (Pharm D) from the University of Sargodha, Pakistan. In search of a career that would take advantage of her medical and pharmaceutical skills, Dr. Saba found medical writing – a career path a few medical students consider. In her journey "from a medical bench to pen," she has worked with several startups for many years managing content on biotech products, pharmaceuticals, drugs, devices, and techniques. While keeping up with the latest trends in medical writing, she aims to use her writing skills to clearly communicate complex scientific, medical, and health information to the potential investor and general audience.

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