Types of Cannabinoids

What Are Cannabinoids? [A Beginner’s Guide]

If you’re new to cannabis, there’s a lot of lingo to wrap your head around. One term that you’re likely to read and hear a lot is cannabinoid

In basic terms, cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemical compounds found primarily in the cannabis plant. But behind this seemingly simple definition lies layers of complexity. Getting to grips with cannabinoids will help you to better understand their role in the plant, their effects on the human body, their different variants, and the ways they can be used and consumed. 

Here’s your beginner’s guide to getting clued up on cannabinoids--let’s dig in!


So, how many cannabinoids are there?

What Are the Major Cannabinoids?

Different Variants of CBD and THC

How Can Cannabinoids be Taken?

How Do Cannabinoids Work?

What Do Cannabinoids Do?


So, how many cannabinoids are there?

Cannabis is an incredible plant packed with more than 400 potent natural chemical compounds, including terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids. But while most cannabinoids occur in cannabis, it’s vital to acknowledge that other plants can contain cannabinoids, too. Cacao, black pepper, and black truffles are all examples of plants with natural cannabinoids.

What’s more, the human body also produces cannabinoids, known as endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids affect the body similarly to the cannabinoids in cannabis, influencing key physiological processes such as appetite, mood, and sleep. 

Finally, there are synthetic cannabinoids. Synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured chemical compounds formulated in a laboratory. They are designed to react in the brain in a similar way to cannabis. Unfortunately, many synthetic cannabinoids retailed for recreational use have been linked to harmful, unpredictable effects. At Hemmfy, we only retail CBD and cannabinoid products sourced from cannabis--never illegal cannabinoids, like many of those found in synthetic cannabinoid formulations.

What Are the Major Cannabinoids?

The two major cannabinoids present in the highest concentrations in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These are the most researched cannabinoids, so there’s a large body of knowledge about their therapeutic effects

However, there’s also a range of minor cannabinoids too. Some of the best-known minor cannabinoids include cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinodiol (CBDL), cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabielsoin (CBE), and cannabitriol (CBT). 

These minor cannabinoids come with their own sets of therapeutic benefits that scientists are presently working to uncover. However, as most minor cannabinoids exist in minimal concentrations within the cannabis plant, there’s still a lot to learn about them.

It’s important to point out that cannabinoids also exist in other forms too. All cannabinoids are found as acids in their raw form. Heat or time are required to convert cannabinoids from acids into their activated counterparts--a process known as decarboxylation. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) becomes THC, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) becomes CBD, cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) becomes CBC, and so on. 

Activated cannabinoids and acidic cannabinoids each come with their own unique therapeutic benefits and effects, even though many may not be familiar to us. To access the benefits of raw cannabinoids, you can use cold press juicing on fresh cannabis leaves and buds. Hemmfy also stocks a range of raw, acidic cannabinoids, such as these CBDa products.

Different Variants of CBD and THC

Of course, just to add some more complexity into the mix, there are also variants of CBD, known as homologs. We can think of these as cousins to CBD--they share similar traits, but they’re also distinctive. 

Different Variants of CBD and THC

Of the 100+ natural cannabinoids identified in Cannabis sativa, seven have been classified as CBD-type compounds, such as cannabidivarin (CBDV), which like CBD, is also non-intoxicating. Another CBD variant that was discovered in the plant in 2019 is cannabidiphorol (CBDP), which boasts anti-convulsive and anti-inflammatory qualities. Cannabidihexol, another type of CBD with pain-relieving properties, was discovered in 2010. 

But there are synthetic (lab-manipulated) CBD variants too. Synthetic CBD derivatives, or enantiomers that are mirror images of CBD (imagine these like two hands side-by-side) are formulated in clinical settings to improve the potency, efficacy, or therapeutic properties of this potent phytocannabinoid. One such example of a CBD enantiomer is CBDo, which can actually be derived from carvone, a terpene (which just goes to show how close cannabinoids and terpenes are). Researchers have found that some of these CBD variants are up to one thousand percent stronger than regular CBD at the body’s cannabinoid receptor sites.

Like CBD, THC also comes with its own set of seven naturally occurring variants or homologs. Some of the better-known ones include tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol and delta-10-tetrahydrocannabinol. Delta-8 has been linked to feelings of euphoria, alertness, focus, energy, and creativity. In other words, delta-8 delivers a mild to moderate high that is less intoxicating than delta-9 THC. Delta-10, on the other hand, promotes feelings of relaxation, chilling out, and stimulates appetite. The high delivered by Delta-10 is even milder than that of Delta-8.

How Can Cannabinoids be Taken?

When it comes to consuming or using cannabinoids from cannabis, the sky’s the limit. There are topical cannabinoids, such as topical CBD oils and lotions that can be applied to the body, edible cannabinoids, like delicious CBD gummies, and water-soluble cannabinoids dissolvable in water or other liquids allowing greater bioavailability. Cannabinoids, like CBD, can also be smoked, vaped, dropped as a tincture under the tongue, or consumed in a powder format.

Within these broader delivery formats, cannabinoids themselves come in different concentrations and formulations. CBD isolate, for example, is pure CBD. The cannabinoid is extracted from the cannabis plant, with all other terpenes and cannabinoids eliminated during the extraction process. 

Broad-spectrum CBD contains a number of naturally-occurring compounds from the plant but without tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The broad-spectrum formulation is perfect for those looking to experience the benefits of other cannabinoids and terpenes but wanting to bypass the potentially intoxicating effects of THC. Finally, there is full-spectrum CBD. Full-spectrum CBD products contain the full complement of other cannabinoids and terpenes found in the plant for users looking to harness the benefits of the entourage effect. The entourage effect is the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts--all of the compounds present in a cannabis plant team together to offer the user unique and superior therapeutic benefits.

How Do Cannabinoids Work?

Cannabinoids are secondary metabolites. They have no role in helping the cannabis plant grow, but rather, play a key role in supporting the plant fighting off parasites, bugs, and predators. It’s no wonder, then, that cannabinoids deliver therapeutic benefits when humans consume them. 

How Do Cannabinoids Work ?

When it comes to humans, cannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors that form part of the body’s endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body but are particularly concentrated in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). The interactions between cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors produce physiological responses--for example, a CBD gummy before bed may help to induce feelings of sleepiness (depending on product formulation).

What Do Cannabinoids Do?

While cannabis is often associated with stoners looking to get high, nowadays, the health benefits of cannabinoids represent a critical reason people consume the plant. Not all cannabinoids are psychoactive or induce intoxicating effects. CBD represents an example of a major cannabinoid that does not intoxicate, but can help to mellow people out with its potential anti-anxiety effects.

Cannabinoids like CBD also have the potential to offer pain relief. Topical muscle rubs and lotions can soothe aches and pains, with athletes often integrating them into their recovery regimen. The medical use of cannabinoids for specific health conditions represents another critical application of these incredible compounds--CBD has been clinically proven to help manage seizures in certain forms of childhood epilepsy, for example. 

Research also points to abundant future applications. For example, CBD and its variants may one day play a role in treating substance abuse and dependence, schizophrenia, social phobia, post-traumatic stress, depression, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, and Parkinson. Watch this space.

Hemmfy articles and blogs are meant to entertain and educate. However, we are not medical professionals and do not intend to give medical advice through them.

The knowledge around CBD and other cannabis-derived products is growing and constantly changing, as does their legal status. Hence, we recommend checking with your local authorities and a licensed physician prior to consumption.


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[4] Morales, P., Reggio, P. H., & Jagerovic, N. (2017). An Overview on Medicinal Chemistry of Synthetic and Natural Derivatives of Cannabidiol. Frontiers in pharmacology, 8, 422. 

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Ema Stone

Emma F. Stone is a journalist based in New Zealand specializing in cannabis, health, medical, beauty, wellbeing, and sustainability sectors. She has a Ph.D. in sociology and an academic background in social justice, religion, and spirituality. She has written for Psychedelic Science Review and contributed to industry reports and fact sheets detailing cannabis medicine.