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Cannabinoids: THC, CBD, and Beyond

Cannabinoids like Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) are an important part of how cannabis helps you feel better. Whether cannabis helps you feel relaxed, carefree, or a little hungry, these compounds are one of many in cannabis plants that help your body feel restored and refreshed. If you’re curious about what cannabinoids are and how they work, our guide can help you jumpstart your journey.

What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids, or more specifically plant-derived phytocannabinoids, are the compounds found in the cannabis plant. THC, arguably the most well-known phytocannabinoid, closely mimics your body’s endocannabinoids, or the cannabinoids your body produces naturally. THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids are found in the resin-rich buds of the cannabis plant. 

Cannabinoids of all kinds are responsible for a wide range of effects associated with the consumption of cannabis, most notably the intoxicating qualities of THC. However, there’s more to cannabinoids beyond THC. In fact, scientists have identified more than 100 cannabinoids so far, but we’ll focus here on some of the most well-known and most promising cannabinoids. 

What do cannabinoids do? 

Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids interact with your endocannabinoid system, or the ECS for short. This system is believed to play a role in maintaining homeostasis, or equilibrium, in your body. Your body produces, recycles, and reuses endocannabinoids as needed1, while phytocannabinoids can supplement the endocannabinoids your body already produces naturally.  Unlike endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids need to be exposed to heat, a process called decarboxylation, before they turn into their “active” form and get to work in your body. 

Two main receptors have been identified in your ECS: CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. Researchers have mapped these receptors from head to toe, quite literally2: they can be found in your brain, skin, immune system, bones, organs, blood vessels, and more. So far, we know that THC interacts with your CB1 receptors, and that CBD acts as an allosteric modulator, or makes these receptors more receptive to other substances. 

Ever since cannabinoids were discovered, researchers have closely studied how they influence your ECS, and in turn, how they impact how you feel. At its core, the introduction of cannabinoids to the ECS is thought to modulate the release and uptake of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are the chemicals responsible for carrying messages from your brain to the rest of your body3. For example, serotonin is often linked to the nervous system and affects sleep, memory, appetite, and mood. The modulation of serotonin prompted by phytocannabinoids could have wide ranging effects that are still being studied4. The same is thought to be true for other major neurotransmitters like dopamine5

However, because the ECS is so widespread and neurotransmitters are so versatile, there’s no one precise calculation to predict how cannabinoids might make you feel6. Each experience is truly an individual one, and no two experiences are alike. As you explore your options, be sure to pay close attention to how each product influences you, and take that into account when you revisit the dispensary.

Getting to know the most well-known cannabinoids

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most well-known and studied phytocannabinoids. 

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): Known for its intoxicating properties, THC may help with numerous aspects of daily life, from unwinding after a long day to managing chronic pain. This phytocannabinoid is a CB1 agonist, which means THC activates this receptor type, which in turn influences the release of the neurotransmitter GABA. We know the most about this well-researched phytocannabinoid, first extracted from cannabis in 19427 and its structure first described in 1964 by famed Israeli researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, widely considered the grandfather of modern cannabinoid medicine.

  • Cannabidiol (CBD): Unlike THC, which binds directly to CB1 receptors, scientists are still not certain exactly how CBD interacts with the ECS. So far, we do know that CBD moderates how the ECS’s receptors respond to endocannabinoids, hormones, and other substances, including THC. CBD is an “allosteric modulator,” meaning it changes the shape of the CB1 receptor, therefore modifying how other substances bind to or otherwise interact with it. Much is still being learned about this famed, non-intoxicating cannabinoid, with studies exploring its impact on a wide range of conditions, including reducing inflammation and supporting relaxation. 

While THC and CBD are household names, these two phytocannabinoids are just the tip of the iceberg. Many minor cannabinoids among the more than 100 identified by researchers are the subject of unfolding research.

  • Cannabinol (CBN): As THC degrades, it turns into CBN. First isolated in the late 19th century, CBN is being researched as a sleep aid and for its pain-relieving properties. Learn more here.

  • Cannabigerol (CBG): Nicknamed the “mother of all cannabinoids,” CBG is the source of the acidic forms of THC and CBD in a young, growing cannabis plant. Researchers are examining its potential to help with several conditions as wide-ranging as glaucoma, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)8.

  • Cannabichromene (CBC): Recent research into this minor cannabinoid explores its use as an anti-inflammatory9

The cannabinoid content of common cannabis products

Depending on the product, you’ll see cannabinoid content expressed as a percentage or in milligrams. This information lets you gauge how much THC, CBD, and other minor cannabinoids you’re consuming and in what ratios. Here’s the cannabinoid content you might expect for each product type:

  • Flower: Each strain of cannabis flower varies in potency, containing different levels of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, often referred to collectively as “minor cannabinoids.”Cannabis flower is available in varying percentages of cannabinoid content, as little as 10% or under or as high as 30% or higher. For many varieties of cannabis flower, CBD content is typically much lower than its THC content. However, high CBD flower strains are becoming more common. Minor cannabinoids typically make up smaller amounts  of total cannabinoid content for any given strain.

  • Concentrates: Concentrates earned their name, as they are among the most potent cannabis products available. These products, which are made from cannabis plant extract, contain elevated levels of cannabinoids. Percentages of either THC or CBD, depending on the product, can range from 60% to as high as 90%. Typically, concentrates mimic the cannabinoid profile from which the plant is derived, but some manufactures may add other cannabinoids to elicit a certain experience.

  • Edibles: Cannabis products that make your way through your digestive tract – including infused foods, drinks, and capsules – are dispensed by serving size and measured in milligrams. Serving sizes can be as small as 2.5mg or 5mg. The cannabinoid amount and ratio of THC to CBD varies depending on the product.

  • Topicals: Like edibles, topicals are measured in milligrams, and ratio and cannabinoid amounts vary depending on what you buy. Typically, the label will tell you the total amount of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids in the container.

  • Tinctures: Similar to edibles, tinctures are taken orally. They can also be held under your tongue (called sublingual) before swallowing, so the cannabinoids enter your body both through the tissues in your mouth and through your digestive system, called the biphasic effect. Cannabinoid content, the THC to CBD ratio, and the amount of cannabinoids per serving all vary depending on the product.

Ethos is here to help you on your cannabis journey

At Ethos, we understand how important it is not just to provide you with the medical cannabis products you need, but to help you make informed decisions about your journey. We want you to feel empowered to make decisions about medical cannabis by providing the knowledge that helps you make the right choices for your body. Cannabis consumption is truly an individualized process, and we are here to help you on your way to feeling better. 


  1.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4120766/
  2. https://www.uclahealth.org/cannabis/human-endocannabinoid-system
  3. https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain-physiology/what-are-neurotransmitters
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110547/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3405830/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2882293/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1760722/
  8. https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-is-cbg-cannabinoid
  9. https://journalofcannabinoidmedicine.com/is-cannabichromene-the-unsung-hero-of-the-cannabinoids/

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