What Are Cannabinoids and How Do They Affect the Body?


The cannabis industry has grown extensively throughout the world over the last 20 years, with many ‘cannabinoid-based products becoming widely available – even in countries where cannabis remains illegal. But what are cannabinoids and how do they interact with our bodies?

In this day and age, it is likely that you won’t have heard of CBD or THC – even if you aren’t familiar with the term ‘cannabinoids’ (named after the cannabis plant). After all, CBD is now widely available both online and in specialist health and high street stores across the UK and customers can find an array of CBD oils, edibles, skincare products and much more! However, these two compounds are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cannabinoids…

What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant. While CBD and THC are the most prevalent and easiest of these compounds to extract, there are believed to be over 120 cannabinoids present in the plant!

Different cannabinoids have a different property profile and may be considered useful for a range of health and wellness indications. For example, the most common cannabinoid, THC, is also the most psychoactive. It is this compound that is responsible for our association of cannabis and being ‘high’.

Read next: How long does CBD take to work?

However, there are many more cannabinoids that are non-intoxicating and some, like CBD, have even been found to have the potential to reverse some of the psychoactive effects of THC. CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second-most prevalent cannabinoid produced by the cannabis plant.

It has been found to have a number of therapeutic properties, including being an effective anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-seizure. CBD has been widely adopted in the wellness sector for these properties, as well as its potential as an anti-anxiety compound.

These compounds are similar in structure to chemicals produced in our bodies, known as endocannabinoids – that’s right, also named after the cannabis plant!

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How do cannabinoids interact with our bodies?

Thanks to these similarities in structure, cannabinoids can interact with the endocannabinoid system – a series of receptors and neurotransmitters (endocannabinoids) and enzymes that are expressed throughout the body’s immune system and central nervous system.

The two most prominent receptors in the endocannabinoid system are known as CB1 and CB2. Cannabinoids can interact with these receptors both directly and indirectly, mimicking the actions of endocannabinoids such as anandamide (named for the Sanskrit word for ‘bliss’) and 2-AG.

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The endocannabinoid system has been found to play a role in a number of neurological and physiological processes including the regulation of temperature, appetite, mood, and pain signalling. Research carried out in recent years has suggested that cannabinoids may be useful as a treatment for a variety of indications, including pain management, some forms of epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, as well as for stress and anxiety relief and general wellness.

Related post: What is the strongest CBD oil?

Popular cannabinoids

In recent years, black market cannabis has been intentionally cultivated to contain a higher THC, with intoxication often being considered the most desirable factor. In fact, a recent report indicated that the strength of illicit cannabis in the UK has increased by 25% over the last 50 years.

However, it seems that CBD is now beginning to take over THC as the most popular cannabis derivative, with low-THC hemp cultivation once again taking off in countries around the world. Cannabidiol has taken the health and wellness world by storm, thanks to its potential in a number of indications and it can now be found in a huge variety of products. The non-psychoactive profile of the cannabinoid has also helped to bring the appeal of cannabis to a whole new demographic.

Read next: Does CBD show on a UK drugs test?

Broad spectrum CBD oil has become the most popular, as it contains 0% THC whilst still keeping the terpenes and other beneficial properties of the hemp plant, allowing for the "entourage effect".

Learn about the benefits of broad spectrum CBD here.

Also learn about Broad Spectrum vs Full Spectrum here.