Phytocannabinoids: Building Blocks of Cannabis

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

Welcome back dear readers! In our previous blogs we discussed hemp, cannabis, and marijuana, as well as an introduction to the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). If you haven't read these posts I highly recommend a quick read, as today we will be discussing phytocannabinoids and how they interact with the ECS. No time like the present so let's dive right in!


It's a big, official sounding word, but odds are you already know what these are if you've done much reading on cannabis.

Phytocannabinoids are the substances in cannabis that activate aspects of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). If you have been to any dispensary or CBD shop you will have heard the terms THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN, CBDV, CBDA, etc. flying through the air; a veritable blizzard of cannabis terminology!

Today we will start to de-mystify all those three and four letter acronyms, and set you on the path to becoming a cannabis aficionado by briefly touching on some of the most pharmacologically active phytocannabinoids.

We might as well start with CBD, with my name being what it is! ;)

CBD aka Cannabidiol

Cannabidiol (CBD) was first discovered in 1940, and was initially dismissed as an inert part of cannabis. However CBD plays a major role by activating and inhibiting receptors, in addition to enhancing synthesis of anandamide (AEA) in the body. As you may remember from the post on the Endocannabinoid System, anandamide is a type of essential fatty acid that binds to CB1 receptors in the brain.

CBD does not directly stimulate CB1 or CB2 receptors, instead preventing other cannabinoids from directly accessing the receptors. CBD shows incredible promise as an anti-inflammatory by directly blocking inflammation processes in the body and brain, as well as stimulating production of natural endocannabinoids. CBD is low in side effects, and these usually only occur at very high doses of the pure substance rather than from any plant based preparation.

Another very interesting effect of CBD is that it transforms hard to burn white fat into readily burned brown fat when used over long periods of time, contributing to weight loss.

CBD has also shown pharmacological promise in the following areas: anti-epileptic, anti-spasmodic (suppresses muscle spasms), antibacterial, anti-psoriatic (prevents/counters psoriasis), anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, analgesic (pain relieving), anti-emetic (nausea and vomiting), neuroprotective (protects and regenerates the brain), vasorelaxant (reduction of vascular tension), anti-psychotic, anti-diarrheal, bone stimulant.

CBDA aka Cannabidiolic Acid

The precursor to CBD, Cannabidiolic Acid is effective against nausea. Some studies have shown it to have efficacy in reducing the spread of cancer due to its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to separate the tumor from its blood supply. The body actually converts CBDA to CBD more efficiently than heating (nearly four times the rate!) which means that eating the raw plant can be very beneficial medicinally!

CBDA also shows pharmacological promise in the following areas: anti-cancer, anti-emetic, anti-inflammatory (reduces inflammation/swelling), anti-proliferative (inhibits cell growth of tumor cells).

CBDV aka Cannabidivarin

CBDV is structurally similar to CBD, and like CBD has no intoxicating effects. Much of the research on CBDV has centered around its effects on seizures.

CBDV also shows pharmacological promise in the following areas: bone stimulant.

Photos © Shelly Williams 2001-2019

CBC aka Cannabichromene

CBC is non-intoxicating and works on the body in several ways. It binds to other receptors such as TRPV1 and TRPA1, both of which are linked to pain perception. In doing so it activates the body's natural production of anadamide. CBC also works synergistically with the other phytocannabinoids as part of the entourage effect. It is highly anti-inflammatory in a different way than the other phytocannabinoids, by blocking a pro-inflammatory receptor and blocking nitric oxide.

CBC also shows pharmacological promise in the following areas: anti-inflammatory, bone stimulant, anti-depressant, analgesic, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-proliferative.

CBN aka Cannabinol

CBN is found in aged cannabis plants and formulations. It is also found in plants that have been degraded by sun and oxygen in the form of CBDA (cannabinolic acid.) Both CBD and THC turn into CBN as they age and dry. CBN has shown promise in inhibiting psoriasis, and contains potent anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.

CBN also shows pharmacological promise in the following areas: anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-cancer, sleep promoting.

CBGA aka Cannabigerolic Acid

CBGA is the grandfather of all the other phytocannabinoids. It is the precursor to the three main phytocannabinoid lines: THCA, CBDA, and CBCA. It also can break down into CBG, although rarely.

CBGA also shows pharmacological promise in the following areas: cardiovascular, metabolic disorders, anti-colorectal cancer.

CBG aka Cannabigerol

CBG is non-psychoactive and usually present at levels of 1% or less in most cannabis strains. It is thought to be particularly effective at treating glaucoma as it reduces intra-ocular eye pressure. The zero-sum nature of CBGA conversion into the three main phytocannabinoid lines means that there is often a very small amount of CBG versus THC/CBD/CBC in most strains.

CBG also shows pharmacological promise in the following areas: anti-proliferative, anti-inflammatory, anti-glaucoma, anti-cancer, antibacterial, smooth muscle anti-spasmodic, appetite stimulant, neuroprotective.

Photos © Shelly Williams 2001-2019

THC aka Tetrahydrocannabinol

For many, THC is the star of the show for cannabis. Its psychoactive effects are among the most readily observable and immediate. Pain relief is the most studied of its effects, and THC is the most potent analgesic aka pain-reliever of the phytocannabinoids, which is due to its effects on the CB1 receptors in the brain and nervous system as well as peripheral tissue. THC also helps to emotionally disconnect a person from their pain by decreasing signaling from the sensory area of the brain to the emotional area.

THC helps to reduce inflammation in the brain via CB-2 receptors on glial cells. THC also prevents and removes beta-amyloid buildup within the nerve cells, before the problem can become Alzheimer's disease.

THC also shows pharmacological promise in the following areas: anti-oxidant, anti-epileptic, anti-cancer, anti-emetic, anti-proliferative, neuroprotective, sleep promoting, euphoriant.

THCV aka Tetrahydrocannabivarian

THCV is a partial antagonist of CB1 receptors. THCV teams up with other phytocannabinoids such as CBD and THC to treat lung illnesses using the entourage effect. Cannabis strains high in THCV are being researched as a treatment options for high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

THCV also shows pharmacological promise in the following areas: bone stimulant, appetite suppressant, anti-epileptic.

THCA aka Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid

THCA is a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid found in raw cannabis. Over time it converts into its more famous cousin THC. This process is greatly sped up by heating the plant, a process known as decarboxylation. THCA can be juiced for its raw plant benefits without any worry of psychoactive effects.

THCA also shows pharmacological promise in the following areas: analgesic, anti-proliferative, anti-spasmodic, mild euphoria, pleasure, neuroprotective, well-being, anti-emetic, anti-inflammatory.

Photos © Shelly Williams 2001-2019

There are even more phytocannabinoids, but for now having even a surface level knowledge of some of the most pharmacologically relevant cannabinoids will put you way ahead of the game, giving you the knowledge you need to both learn more yourself, as well as educate those around you.

Let's end this post here before it gets any longer! Stay tuned for more posts as we go into the New Year.

Happy Holidays and have an amazing New Year!

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