What are Cannabinoids?

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a type of chemical compound found both in the cannabis plant and generated by our own human bodies.

Here are a few terms for clarity:

  • Cannabis is a type of plant that can be grown for hemp and marijuana use.
  • Cannabinoid is a compound formed in the body and in the cannabis plant.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is a specific cannabinoid produced by the cannabis plant.

We all have an endocannabinoid system (ECS), the main aim of which is to keep the body in balance or homeostasis. The ECS receives and translates signals received from cannabinoids in the body. These cannabinoids work together with cannabinoid receptors to support regulatory functions such as sleep, immune responses, and pain management. The cannabinoids our body produces are called endocannabinoids.


Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. These endocannabinoids are created on demand by humans and other mammals including pets. There are different endocannabinoids produced in the body including anandamide, 2-AG, NADA and noladin ether.  When the body strays from homeostasis or balance, endocannabinoids are created. Once produced, the endocannabinoids attach to the cannabinoid receptors transmitting a message to the cells. The message tells the cell to act in a way that returns the body to homeostasis.

Endocannabinoids are simply messengers that help return the body to balance or homeostasis.  With their complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and most of the body's organs, the endocannabinoids are quite literally a bridge between body and mind.


Phytocannabinoids, however, are naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Although phytocannabinoids are found in other plants such as Echinacea purpurea, there are 113 that have been found to only occur in the marijuana plant. Phytocannabinoids imitate the cannabinoids produced in the body and bind to the cannabinoid receptors, just like endocannabinoids, to produce different effects. The three phytocannabinoids most well known are: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THCA); cannabidiol (CBD); and cannabinol (CBN).

Taking CBD as an example, its effects are very complex. It is not psychoactive (like THC), so does not produce a "high" or change your state of mind. Instead, it influences the body to use its own endocannabinoids more effectively by activating or inhibiting other compounds in the ECS. This interaction with cannabinoid receptors has captured the attention of researchers who are studying CBD for different therapeutic effects.

Other common phytocannabinoids include CBG, THC, and CBN which are also being studied for understand their effects.

Understanding cannabinoids can increase your understanding in using cannabis as a nutritional supplement. They are created in the body and in cannabis, and they play an active role in supporting the endocannabinoid system.

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