overview of cannabinoids

Cannabinoids – What Are They and What Is CBD?

Much has been written, especially recently, about cannabinoids and the growing popularity of CBD.

What are cannabinoids and what do they do? Is CBD a cannabinoid? Where do they come from and what are they for? These are some of the questions we will try and answer.

This article is by no means a detailed explanation of how cannabinoids work. Rather, it is more of an overview of cannabinoids.

The subject of cannabinoids is sort of fragmented and kind of overwhelming. We will try to breakdown and simplify what they are and what they do.

Of course,  at CBD Stasis, we like to discuss CBD, which is a phytocannabinoid (more on these later). We will give you information on CBD wherever we can and explain how it fits into the cannabinoid spectrum.

Let’s break it down…

What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids is a broad classification of the chemical compounds discovered to naturally exist in cannabis, or that are produced in mammals as part of the endocannabinoid system.

Yes, both.

It can be rather confusing. But the name originated with the discovery of compounds found in cannabis as part of research into the psychoactive properties of marijuana. Cannabis can refer to the marijuana plant or to any of the plants in the cannabis family, including hemp – and cannabinoids can be found in all the cannabis family of plants.

But, there are cannabinoids found in other places as well; in other plant families and in fungi.

They are also found in all mammals as part of the endocannabinoid system, a system of compounds produced by our body in combination with cannabinoid receptors. This system is used to regulate or modulate neural pathway signals.

In addition, science has created many synthetic cannabinoids in an effort to study and understand the endocannabinoid system and to develop new drugs for various conditions.

All cannabinoids are lipid based, consisting of fatty acids or esters of fats and oils. This means they are not soluble in water and must be extracted with solvents or with processes to extract oils.

To review: cannabinoids are naturally found in
1] marijuana plants
2] cannabis family of plants (like hemp)
3] other plants and fungi (like echinacea and black truffles)
4] inside of all mammals as a part of our endocannabinoid system

Let’s start with exogenous cannabinoids first, also known as exocannabinoids.

Exogenous cannabinoids – outside the body.

Some of these compounds are the cannabinoids you have probably heard of, like THC and CBD.

Exogenous cannabinoids (exogenous means “outside the body”) are sometimes referred to as exocannabinoids. These are are produced outside the body of mammals. Most of these are plant based and are called phytocannabinoids.

There are actually many plant based chemical compounds, or phytocannabinoids. Cannabis alone has over 112 cannabinoids (so far) among the 600+ chemical compounds currently uncovered. Hemp has its share as well.

In addition there are sources outside the cannabis family, plants like echinacea, that also contain compounds that are nearly identical to the cannabinoid compounds found within our bodies.

The list of phytocannabinoids just from cannabis is lengthy, but the main ones that have been studied to some degree are:
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)
THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
CBD (Cannabidiol)
CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid)
CBN (Cannabinol)
CBG (Cannabigerol)
CBC (Cannabichromene)
CBL (Cannabicyclol)
CBV (Cannabivarin)
THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin)
CBDV (Cannabidivarin)
CBCV (Cannabichromevarin)
CBGV (Cannabigerovarin)
CBGM (Cannabigerol Monomethyl Ether)
CBE (Cannabielsoin)
CBT (Cannabicitran)

In marijuana, THC is the most abundant of the cannabinoids found, especially in more modern varieties where this has been bred into the plants.

Another of the more abundant is CBD, now becoming more popular because of its health benefits without producing psychoactive side effects.

Many cannabinoids are altered or produced as the plant is dried and aged, or when it is heated – as in the case of marijuana. For example, THC is converted from THCA as the plant dries, Or it can be produced from CBG as the plant grows.

Next, let’s look at the endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids – inside the body.

These are the not-so-popular cannabinoids found inside our bodies and the bodies of all mammals.

It’s true, all mammals have endocannabinoid systems and produce cannabinoids internally.

Endocannabinoids were not discovered until after the first compounds classified as cannabinoids were found in cannabis (that explains all the naming surrounding “cannabis”),

They are produced by our bodies as part of the endocannabinoid system. This system, which is still being very actively researched, is not entirely understood, However, enough is known that the system seems to modulate neural pathway signals and activity.

The endocannabinoid system is comprised of both cannabinoids and receptors, or neurotransmitters, in our brain and throughout parts of our body. The known receptors are referred to as CB1 and CB2.

Endocannabinoids that react with these receptors are being discovered frequently as research continues, but the two main ones are;

Anandamide (also known as N-arachidonoylethanolamine or AEA)
2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)

The endocannabinoids do not work with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the usual way. Instead they are retrograde transmitters, a process where one cell sends reciprocal messages back to another cell that regulates it. Or put another way, the function of one part of a cell is controlled by feedback from another part of the cell.  [Wikipedia – retrograde signaling]

More needs to learned, but it seems that endocannabinoids are produced to modulate signals in the neural pathways created by stress factors in our body – to put it simply.

The typical cannabinoids we hear about like CBD are not produced by our own bodies but can react within our bodies in similar ways as our own endocannabinoids once they are ingested. We will get more of an overview of this later.

Synthetic cannabinoids.

As the name suggests, synthetic cannabinoids are not natural. They are chemicals produced in laboratories for different reasons.

Sometimes, synthetic cannabinoids were created for the sake of experimentation – to find out if they reacted with receptors in our bodies, or to help understand other reactions.

In other cases, pharmaceutical companies made drugs based around the natural cannabinoids in our bodies or found in plants.

Drug companies also worked on making drugs that were identical to natural cannabinoid compounds so they could easily combine them in exacting ratios. These were not natural but rather were created in a lab. Sativex was one of these types of drugs.

Then there is the darker side of synthetic cannabinoids, the street drugs, some of very questionable quality and strengths, like; K2 and Spice – both just generic terms for many different synthetic street drugs.

These street drugs are usually sprayed onto herbal and paper compositions which do not really play a part in the final effects of the drug.

So, when did all these cannabinoids first come to light?

Brief history of cannabinoids.

In 1899, CBN was first isolated from the cannabis resin.

In 1932 and later in the 1940’s, CBD and CBN were first identified.

Discovery of THC didn’t come along until much later, in 1964.

Originally, it wa thought that THC was converted from CBD. But, now it is known that THC is produced from its precursor CBN in the cannabis plant.

Starting in the 1970’s through the 1990’s, cannabinoid pharmacology began in earnest.

Most of the knowledge we have today about cannabinoids is from research done more recently and is still ongoing.

The cannabinoid receptors weren’t identified until 1990 for the CB1 receptor and 1993 for the CB2 receptor.

Anandamide was uncovered in 1992 and 2-AG in 1995.

Sativex (synthetic drug) was approved in 2005.

And the cannabinoid saga continues today.

Ingesting phytocannabinoids.

The question arises; what happens when we consume phytocannabinoids since we already have endocannabinoids working in our system?

This happens whenever marijuana is consumed or any cannabinoid, like CBD produced from hemp – or even when other phytocannabinoids are consumed, like anandamides from chocolate (yes, there are cannabinoids in chocolate!)

So far, evidence seems to indicate that our endocannabinoid system can easily withstand external cannabinoid use. We could even say that our bodies could use more support with external cannabinoids. It really depends on what particular cannabinoids we are talking about.

Consuming THC results in known psychoactive effects, this is not debated. WHat is highly debated is whether consuming too much THC or on a chronic level can have a negative impact on our brain.

Either way, eliminating (or at least reducing) THC content then allows for other cannabinoids to help moderate or modulate neurotransmissions to our brain and body without the large psychoactive impact.

Some research is showing that all of the cannabinoids, both internal and external, seem to work together (synergistically) better that they do by themselves – even THC.

Let’s look at the two main phytocannabinoids, THC and CBD.

Abundant cannabinoids THC and CBD.

The most researched and investigated cannabinoids are THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol).

THC is the most abundant, the most psychoactive, and absolutely the most researched of them all – and is the most prevalent in cannabis.

THC is found in the resinous material on the flowers of the cannabis (marijuana) plant. Higher concentrations of THC have been bred into modern marijuana plants. Older plant breeds contained much lower amounts.

Hemp also contains THC but in much lower concentrations and hemp plants have also been bred to contain as little THC as possible, with trace amounts.

THC is psychoactive and does have side effects and may even produce dependency, however this last point is debated. What has been shown is that THC and other cannabinoids seem to work together in some fashion to regulate, moderate, and modulate neurotransmissions in our bodies.

THC, by itself, is not wanted by the person seeking health benefits, nor the person looking to get high. High levels of THC, not working alongside other cannabinoids, has been shown to produce an anxiety or panic in subjects – both human and animal.

CBD, for one, has been found to regulate THC by binding to the receptors in our body thereby blocking THC.

Cannabidiol is the second most abundant cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. In hemp, there is a much higher content of CBD than THC.

By itself, CBD has been shown to produce a “”calming effect” on subjects and some relief of pain. Combined with even just a little THC and this effect is more pronounced and especially with pain relief – and without any psychoactive effects. This is where efforts to learn more are being exerted.

The marijuana industry has already discovered this. And where ti si legal, they are producing products with high CBD to low THC concentrations. If you are looking for anxiety relief or pain relief, this is probably the best combination.

Health benefits of cannabinoids.

What are all the possible health benefits of cannabinoids and CBD?

The biggest benefit and possibly the most difficult to understand is homeostasis. By balancing out and moderating signal pathways ( neurotransmissions), the body can be put in overall balance.

Inflammation can be better controlled, signals for immune response are balanced, communications between systems are enhanced. It is this critical benefit which is believed to be responsible for some of the other benefits and healing of disease mentioned below.

Another of the biggest benefits is inflammation control, since many diseases and disorders are now being linked to it.

The main cannabinoid currently being promoted for health benefits is CBD. Whether you get CBD from hemp extracts or are getting it from cannabis extracts containing some levels of THC, products are being made with CBD.

The list of conditions, diseases and disorders that cannabinoids (and CBD specifically) can benefit is long:

Appetite Loss
Gastrointestinal Disorders
Multiple Sclerosis
Muscular Dystrophy
Sleep Apnea
Spinal Injury

If you are suffering from any of these conditions or ailments, you may want to look into using CBD to help.

We won’t get into all the amazing benefits of CBD in this article – this is just an overview. But look for more information on this site talking about the details.

Ongoing cannabinoid research.

Strangely enough, with all the potential benefits of cannabinoids, in the U.S. research has been hindered by the Federal government. Not directly, but indirectly by policies which penalize states which receive Federal funds when they allow research of cannabis (marijuana), the main source of cannabinoids.

But some states have gone forward with research funding, like Colorado, turning legal marijuana tax dollars back into research.

And, the U.S. government has seen fit to allow for some Federal grant funding of cannabinoid research programs.

Even more research is being conducted by pharmaceutical companies looking to produce drugs that take advantage of the natural benefits surrounding cannabinoids.

It all seems to be a bit of a sticky web.

In any event, much research is ongoing and much more is scheduled for the future.

Legalization of marijuana and cannabinoids.

Speaking of the Federal government, are cannabinoids legal? Is CBD legal?

With respect to the Federal government alone, CBD which contains less than 0.3 % THC is considered legal. The 0.3% THC content is the maximum allowed for industrial hemp production, and many of the CBD products made from hemp already have the low THC levels and are perfectly legal. This would apply to any cannabinoid product, like CBG or CBN.

If you live in a state where marijuana is not yet legalized – CBD oil made from hemp is your only legal alternative.

Worthy of note – Federal law does not address cannabinoids outside of the scope of THC or certain cannabis (marijuana) plant parts, particularly the leaves and flowers.

When it comes to cannabidiol made from cannabis, the THC levels have to reduced for it to be considered legal by Federal regulations – and usually it is not.

In states where marijuana is legal, marijuana and THC containing CBD products are legal in that state and by the state (not by the Federal government). They are made with varying ratios of CBD to THC. This is true for the medical marijuana products as well as recreational products.

You can find CBD products with lower THC levels for medicinal purposes that do not have such a big “getting high” effect – if any at all. Ratios like 10:1 usually do not have psychoactive effects.

Currently (2018), there are 30 states where medical marijuana and their cannabinoid products are legal – oh, and the District of Columbia. 8 of those states have legalized recreational use of marijuana and products derived from it.

Interesting enough, some states, such as Virginia did long ago, enacted laws allowing for the possession of marijuana if individuals received prescriptions from doctors. However, Federal law, does not allow doctors to prescribe marijuana. This essentially renders those laws invalid.

Doctors can only write a recommendation for medical marijuana, not prescriptions, and they are different.

Public opinion is being swayed towards complete legalization of cannabis (and the byproducts like CBD), both recreationally and medically, to be much like tobacco or alcohol.


There are many terms surrounding cannabinoids. Don’t be confused.

Remember, cannabinoids refers to all of them and then there are the ones inside and outside the body.

Inside the body are the endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system with receptors.

Outside the body are the plant-based phytocannabinoids, which really make up all of the exogenous cannabinoids. The main phytocannabinoids which are the most abundant are THC and CBD, but there are many others.

Cannabis is the main plant they are found in, but also plants from the cannabis family, like hemp.

Other plants contain cannabinoids, like echinacea, fava, and black truffles (really a fungi) – and some of these cannabinoids are also the same as found in our own body.

CBD is the main natural product currently available that has many health benefits with little or no psychoactive (getting high) side effects.

The next few years will have an abundance of new information and products coming out to take advantage of the natural benefits that are being discovered about cannabinoids.

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