While cannabis has been used for thousands of years, scientists are still identifying many of the chemical components of the plant. According to a 2021 study
published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, there are more than 550 chemical compounds in cannabis and more than 100 cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. There are also more than 100 aromatic terpenes and other plant constituents. All of these components work in synergy to create the effects and experience of cannabis as we know it. Here’s a look at some of the key contributors and how they work.
Cannabinoids are the most active ingredients in cannabis and are often what people know by name. When consuming cannabis, cannabinoids are absorbed in the bloodstream, processed in the endocannabinoid system, and then expressed in the central nervous system, creating the feel-good effects that cannabis is known for. Some of the most recognized cannabinoids include:
THC – For many, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the crown jewel of cannabinoids. It is responsible for the major psychoactive effects of cannabis.
THCV – Tetrahydrocannabivarin is very closely related to THC but known for having significant differences. Most often found in sativa strains, THCV may create an energized, alert feeling and act as an appetite suppressant for some.
CBD – In the hierarchy of cannabinoids, cannabidiol, or CBD, sits right below THC for its potency and popularity. It is a non-psychoactive compound that is linked to pain and anxiety management, sleep improvement, ananti-inflammatory effects and more.
CBG – Cannabigerol is becoming increasingly well known because of some of its potential benefits. Like CBD,
CBG does not produce psychoactive effects but may
have antibacterial properties and be an effective sleep aid.
CBN – Cannabinol is often found in older cannabis and created during the degradation of THC. CBN in mildly psychoactive with sedative properties that may help with pain relief and function as an anti-inflammatory.
Found in all plants, including cannabis, terpenes are responsible for aroma and flavor and are the primary constituents of most essential oils. The terpenes found in cannabis are thought to contribute to the “entourage effect,” which references the theory that cannabinoids and terpenes work together to enhance the effects of marijuana. These are some of the mostly commonly found terpenes in cannabis:
Myrcene – Found in hops, lemongrass, and herbs, myrcene has an earthy, grounded flavor. It’s thought to have sedative effects, while relieving pain and insomnia. It also may increase the effects of THC and CBD.
Limonene – Also found in citrus rinds, limonene is the terpene that gives some strains a citrusy taste and smell. It also may settle the stomach, have antioxidant properties and contribute to stress relief.
Pinene – Just as the name implies, pinene smells like pine and is found in coniferous trees, such as pine, fir and spruce trees. Pinene is associated with mental clarity
and an uplifted mood.
Trichomes are the tiny crystals found on cannabis leaves and buds. They tend to be sticky and shiny—some are orange and stalky—and they make cannabis look like it’s been sprinkled with sugar. Though seemingly small, trichomes produce resin that contains the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that make cannabis what it is.
Like terpenes, flavonoids contribute to cannabis’ taste and smell. They may have neuroprotective and antioxidant properties and can provide different pigmentation to the plant. They are also believed to contribute to the “entourage effect” in concert with cannabinoids and terpenes.