Chemistry of Cannabis

Cannabis produces a unique class of chemical compounds called cannabinoids, which are primarily, but not exclusively, responsible for the plant’s therapeutic and psychotropic properties. Cannabinoids are hydrocarbons that consist of bound atoms of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. Cannabis has been shown to produce over 70 cannabinoids, with ongoing research uncovering new variations.

In raw plant form, Cannabis contains the acidic compound THCA, not Delta 9-THC, and therefore could be ingested with no pharmacological or psychotropic effects. Only when heated does the acidic compound THCA convert to biologically active THC (Delta 9-THC) in a process called decarboxylation (loss of carboxylic acid functional group). The rule applies to all cannabinoids: decarboxylation converts acidic CBDA to neutral CBD; CBGA to CBG; etc.

Due to its psychotropic effects on the human brain, THC (Delta 9-THC) is the best-known cannabinoid. The amount of THC in Cannabis can vary greatly (< 0.3 - 25% dry weight) and the plant has been cultivated aggressively in the modern era to produce potent strains laden with THC. However, the therapeutic benefits of Cannabis are not limited to THC. For example, research has shown that cannabidiol (CBD) also plays a medically beneficial role as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. The current scientific consensus is that cannabinoids other than THC and CBD also have therapeutic applications.

Benefits of Cannabinoids

Psychotropic, painkiller,
anti-inflammatory,
anti-microbial

THC Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol. THC acts on the central nervous and immune systems of humans. It is the primary psychotropic ingredient in Cannabis, or the one that produces a high. While these psychotropic effects have therapeutic benefits, THC also acts as a painkiller, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial (microorganisms e.g., bacteria) agent.

Relieve anxiety,
convulsions, depression,
inflammation, nausea,
sedative, sleep aid, and
muscle relaxant

CBD cannabidiol. CBD does not interact with the human body like other cannabinoids, but has significant therapeutic effects. It appears to relieve anxiety, convulsion, depression, inflammation and nausea. Mildly psychoactive, it is also believed to moderate psychotic side effects of THC, such as schizophrenia-like symptoms. While unproven, CBD may exhibit anti-cancer activity, especially in breast cancer.

Anti-inflammatory, painkiller,
treats acid reflux,
anti-anxiety, antidepressant

CBC cannabichromene. CBC is an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic. It is found in higher concentrations early in the lifecycle of a Cannabis plant and has been shown to reduce THC intoxication in mice.

Painkiller, muscle relaxant,
anti-erythemic analgesic,
digestive aid, stomachic
(stomach function)

CBG cannabigerol. CBG is called the “parent” cannabinoid because it is the chemical precursor of the acidic forms of THC, CBC and CBD. While its biological action is not completely understood, CBG is believed to be a painkiller, muscle relaxant and anti-erythemic (redness of skin, often a sign of inflammation or infection). It is also being investigated for potential anti-cancer activity.

Mild psychotropic, may
stimulate bone growth,
anesthetic, anticonvulsant,
analgesic, anti-anxiety

CBN cannabinol. Mildly psychoactive, CBN is the primary product of THC degradation. As a result, the CBN content of Cannabis goes up as THC is broken down during storage or when exposed to air and light. CBN interacts with the central nervous and immune systems, and may stimulate bone growth.

Anti-obesity, aids memory,
calming aid, antibacterial,
antiviral, immune system

THCV tetrahydrocannabivarin. Nearly identical to THC, THCV acts on the human nervous and immune systems. It has anti-obesity properties and aids in memory.

Anti-inflammatory,
analgesic, protects cells
lining digestive tract

CBDV cannabidivarin. Little is known about CBDV as it is uncommon in modern varieties of Cannabis. Cannabis chemotypes that express CBDV are relatively rare and should be monitored closely.

Learn more about
Botany of Cannabis
Learn more about
Cellular Biology