Much of the focus on cannabis research tends to look at two specific cannabinoids: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). This is not surprising, seeing as these are the two main phytocannabinoids found in cannabis plants. But what about all those other cannabinoids that we don’t hear so much about – the CBGs, CBNs, THCVs and so on? How do they influence the cannabis plant and the effects it has, and what’s their medical potential?
The answer to the latter question seems to be “quite a lot”. The only problem is that we don’t know much about them, and with good reason. For one, we don’t even know the ins- and outs- of how THC and CBD work in their entirety as of yet, let alone other cannabinoids. We also don’t have a huge understanding of how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) works properly, either – all we know is that it exists, and that it seems to play a role in homeostasis. Another issue with the other cannabinoids is that, because they’re present in smaller amounts in cannabis plants, it’s more difficult to extract them and study them properly.
The complexities don’t end there, either. Not only do we need to know how separate cannabinoids work on the ECS when they’re used on their own, we also need to figure out how they interact with another (the “entourage effect”) as well. This is another aspect that makes studying the medical potential of cannabis difficult, as the number of different cannabinoids and terpenoids all working together influences the effect cannabis has to a huge degree. This means that, even if the THC:CBD ratio between to cannabis products or strains is the same, the differences in terpenoids can produce wildly different effects.
Many researchers, when looking at the physiological effects of cannabis for specific conditions, aren’t necessarily looking at specific cannabinoid-terpenoid profiles. “Cannabis” or “medical marijuana” is used quite generically, when perhaps what we should be looking at is how specific cannabinoid-terpenoid profiles work for different conditions. We need to be able to standardize dosages properly, and create a variety of different cannabinoid-terpenoid profiles in order to see what works and what doesn’t.
Here’s a list of the main cannabinoids and terpenoids found in the cannabis plant. Although we don’t know all about all of them as of yet, hopefully getting to know more about them and the effects they have both on their own and when interacting with other cannabinoids and terpenes will give us a clue as to what they can be used for, when and what type should be used, whether they have any negative effects when used at specific dosages or in combination with different medications and so on. This may be the only way we can get a true grasp of what cannabis could be used for …
Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – C21H30O2
The main “psychoactive” cannabinoid found in cannabis. THC Especially may be especially effective for pain, addiction, nausea, tumors and ADHD. THC may also be a potential bronchodilator, and could be of use for asthmatics.
Delta-1 Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCa/THCA) – C21H30O4
Not psychoactive. THCa could be an anti-inflammatory, appetite stimulant, help induce sleep (and thus useful for insomnia), anti-tumor medication and antispasmodic.
Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCv/THCV) – C19H26O2
Has no known effect, but may have some uses for diabetes. May be somewhat psychoactive, and is generally found in higher concentrations in African landrace strains. Thought to be one of the main reasons why such strains have “buzzy”, “racy” effects.
Cannabidiol (CBD) – C21H30O2
The other main cannabinoid found in marijuana, alongside THC. CBD is thought to be non-psychoactive, although there are some reports of slight psychoactivity by some users. CBD works in combination with THC and other cannabinoids, psychoactive or otherwise. As CBD has physiological effects, it could be said to be psychoactive to some degree, even if it’s not to the same extent as THC.
CBD has broad spectrum use, and can be used for pain, stress, asthma, seizure disorders such as MS and epilepsy, and lowering blood sugar levels for diabetes. CBD is also potentially an anti-inflammatory and cancer-killing cannabinoid. CBD may also be an antipsychotic. CBD also may have an effect on the immune system.
Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDa/CBDA) – C22H29O4
CBDa may have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. Until recently, found mostly in Cannabis ruderalis, which is the type of cannabis used to create auto-flowering strains. Strains such as Cannatonic and ACDC have been developed to produce more CBD/CBDa than THC/THCa.
Cannabidivarin (CBDv/CBDV) – C19H26O2
Non-psychoactive. A homolog of CBD, meaning they share many of the same properties as each other. The difference between CBDv and CBD is that CBDv is that the side chain is shortened by two methylene bridges. CBDv may also have anti-epileptic effects, and is being looked at by GW Pharmaceuticals as well.
Cannabichromene (CBC) – C21H30O2
CBC is also non-psychoactive, and it is suggested that CBC is up to 10 times more effective than CBD for treating stress and anxiety (anxiolytic). Also used to treat inflammation and pain relief. CBC seems to have antiviral and anti-tumor properties, and has been shown to stimulate the growth of bone tissue.
Cannabigerol (CBG) – C21H32O2
Non-psychoactive. Stimulates bone growth and brain cell growth. Combats insomnia. Antibacterial and anti-tumor. CBG is a neurogenic compound, and as such is useful in the treatment of nerve pain. Of particular interest to MS, ME, ALS, head/brain trauma, cancer and HIV/AIDS sufferers. Psoriasis and IBS sufferers may benefit, too.
CBG is one of the few genuinely neurogenic compounds around in the world, and is rarely found in nature.
Cannabinol (CBN) – C21H26O2
Cannabinol is a byproduct of oxidized THC, and normally forms after THC is exposed to oxygen or heat. Older cannabis that’s been exposed to air also shows a slightly higher level of CBN, as THC breaks down to CBN. CBN is slightly psychoactive and a medium to strong sedative. Useful as an antiemetic, anticonvulsant and in the treatment of insomnia.
Alpha- and Beta – Pinene – C10H16
This is what gives some marijuana its “pine” like smell. Pinene is also found in pine needles, dill, parsley, rosemary and basil. Effects include alertness, memory retention and counteracting some of the effects of THC. Useful for asthmatics and as an antiseptic. However, the alert effects of pinene may depend on the amount and type of pinene – a particularly high concentration of beta-pinene may induce sleepy effects, as application of heat turns it into myrcene!
Jack Herer, Super Silver Haze (SSH), Neville’s Haze, Chemdawg and Trainwreck have high amounts of pinene.
Myrcene – C10H16
Ever wondered why beer and marijuana have similar sedating effects? That’s because hops contain myrcene, and so do some types of marijuana. Mango, lemongrass and thyme also contain myrcene. Beta-pinene turns into myrcene when it is heated.
Myrcene is an antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antidepressant. Great for sleeplessness and muscle tension, too. Works in combination with THC and CBD for a “couchlock” effect. High myrcene strains include pure Pure Kush, Skunk #1, Himalayan Gold and White Widow. Can sometimes be found in Blueberry- and White Widow- based strains, too.
Limonene – C10H16
As the name of the terpene suggests, limonene is responsible for that “citrus” or “lemony” aroma and taste found in some strains. Limonene is found in fruit rinds, juniper berries, peppermint and rosemary. Provides for an elevated mood and stress relief. Limonene may also help promote weight loss, treat bronchitis and Phase 1 trials have shown that it may prevent or treat cancer.
OG Kush, Lemon Thai, Super Lemon Haze, Jack the Ripper and Lemon Skunk are all high in limonene.
Beta-Caryophyllene – C15H24
Beta-Caryophyllene is found in black pepper, cloves, black caraway and cinnamon. Has no psychoactive effect. Could be useful as an anti-inflammatory. Caryophyllene has use as an antinociceptive (pain blocker), neuroprotective, anxiolytic and antidepressant.
Though not psychoactive, beta-caryophyllene interacts with other phytocannabinoids and can be used for the treatment of pain, inflammation, addiction (particularly alcohol and opiate addiction), anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and fungal and bacterial infections. Hash Plant is a strain that tends to have lots of caryophyllene in it, and Thai- and Vietnamese-.based strains like Chocolope Haze and Willie Nelson could be high in caryophyllene.
Linalool – C10H18O
Ever smelt some strains of marijuana and found that they smell like flowers or certain types of air freshener? That’s probably because said strain contains linalool, a terpene also found in lavender and jasmine.
Linalool is useful for anxiety relief and sedation, and also may have anticonvulsant, antidepressant and anti-acne properties. Amnesia Haze, Lavender, Master Kush, LA Confidential and G-13 all have lots of linalool in them. Many blueberry- or purple- based strains (e.g. Grand Daddy Purple, Purple Kush) also have moderate to high amounts of linalool in them.
Humulene – C15H24
Humulene occurs naturally in clove, basil and hops. Earthy, woody, spicy aromas and flavors are usually associated with humulene, and as such you are likely to find it in abundance in sativa-leaning strains like Congo Haze, Mango Haze, Girl Scout Cookies, and Headband. Indica-leaning strains like Pink Kush and Skywalker OG also contain humulene.
Humulene is an antibacterial, antitumoral and anti-inflammatory. Humulene may suppress hunger.
Bisabolol – C15H26O
Bisabolol is another flowery-smelling terpene found in cannabis, and has been used in cosmetics for a number of years now. Chamomile and candeia trees contain high quantities of bisabolol. Bisabolol is a terpene with low-psychoactivity.
Bisabolol has anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, antioxidant, antimicrobial and analgesic properties. Harle-Tsu, ACDC, OG Shark, Rockstar and God Bud have high concentrations of bisabolol.
Delta-3 Carene/Carene – C10H16
Another piney/earthy terpene, carene may be an anti-inflammatory. Skunk #1 tends to have plenty of carene in it, and hazes that come from the sativa, haze line used for Arjan’s Haze, Super Silver Haze and Super Lemon Haze also seem to carry lots of carene.
Borneol – C10H18O
Borneol has an earthy, “camphor”, minty- type smell. Borneol may be an analgesic, anti-insomnia, antiseptic and bronchodilator. The sativa K13 is said to be high in borneol, and might be one of the terpenes that leads to its “spiciness”.
Eucalyptol – C10H18O
Eucalyptol is used as a cough suppressant and antiseptic, and is an ingredient used in some kinds of mouthwash and as a flavoring in low amounts. Eucalyptol has a “minty” smell. Eucalyptol is rarely found in cannabis, but seems to be found more in sativa, haze- based strains such as Neville’s Haze and Super Silver Haze.
Camphene – C10H16
Camphene has a “fuel”-like smell, and is a terpene often found in turpentine, valerian and cypress oil. Camphene may also be found in ginger and mangoes in small amounts. Camphene may be a potent anti-inflammatory and antibiotic. Camphene is more commonly found in indica strains like Herijuana, but may also be found in some sativas such as Diesel-based strains, as well as some hybrids.
Terpineol – C10H18O
Terpineol has a “piney”, “clove”-type smell, and is most commonly found in strains such as Jack Herer, Super Silver Haze and other, similar types of cannabis. Terpineol may have antioxidant properties.
Trans-Nerolidol – C15H26O
This terpene is most often found in tea tree, jasmine tea and lemongrass, and is thought to contribute to sedative effects. There are also suggestions that trans-nerolidol has antiparasitic, antifungal and antimicrobial properties, and could well inhibit the growth of leishmaniasis (a disease caused by protozoan parasites spread by sandfly bites).
Both indicas and sativas with high levels of THC seem to have high amounts of trans-nerolidol, so think Aurora Indica, Strawberry Cough, Moby Dick, Maui Waui, Sweet Island Skunk and Sensi Star.
Gingerol – C17H26O4
Gingerol is, as the name suggests, what gives the spice ginger its distinctive smell. Gingerol is closely related to piperine (C17H19NO3) found in capsaicin, and the compounds that give chilli and black pepper their smell. Gingerol may have antiemetic, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. Zingiberene (C15H24) is another terpene that has a ginger-like smell that can sometimes be found in cannabis.
This is a small list of all the cannabinoids and terpenoids found in cannabis. So far 113 phytocannabinoids have been discovered, and there are many other terpenes as well. We have barely begun to scratch the surface of what can be found in cannabis, let alone all of their effects and potential health benefits. Hopefully, the federal restrictions are lifted and research gets a chance to start properly and continue for many years to come.