Marijuana is most famous for its psychoactive, stoned effect, which is caused by its most renowned cannabinoid, THC. In recent times, CBD has also become the topic of conversation – but did you know that there are over 500 different bioactive components in a weed flower, and over 100 of them have been identified as cannabinoids

We don’t often think of cannabis in terms of its wide variety of cannabinoids, but rather in terms of its THC and CBD potency. The concentration of these two cannabinoids has become the benchmark on how we define how good a piece of weed is. But in reality, how good a marijuana flower is at doing what it does (recreationally or medically) is more likely due to the combination of compounds in that specimen and how they interact with each other.

Historically – when weed was literally, just a weed – a cannabis flower probably developed different concentrations of cannabinoids based on its geographical location and origin and the conditions in which it grew. There are also differences in cannabis genetics, with hemp plants typically containing higher CBD content and marijuana plants containing higher THC contents.

In the modern world, we use cannabis genetics and growing conditions to maximize the production of certain cannabinoids. For example, some plants are grown because they have higher CBD content, and others for their THC. Others are grown for different cannabinoids all together such as CBG and CBN. 

In this article, we’re exploring some of the more common – and some of the lesser known – cannabinoids of marijuana. We’ll check out their known effects and what strains of weed you’re likely to find them in.

THC – Tetrahydrocannabinol

Tetrahydrocannabinol; THC; the most famous cannabinoid. It’s the one that makes you feel high – the one responsible for all the songs ever written about cannabis, all the funny movies that we love, and the one that’s behind all the controversy regarding weed in general. 

The discovery and isolation of THC dates back to 1964, the year that Israeli cannabis researcher, Raphael Mechoulam, identified THC as marijuana’s psychoactive component. It’s an extremely important discovery because without it, we may never have made so many advancements in the research of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). When THC was isolated for the first time, Mechoulam purported that there must be a receptor with a strong binding affinity to THC. And if that were true, there must be a compound structurally very similar to THC endogenous to the human body, as this would necessitate the receptor. 

Needless to say, Mechoulam went on to be arguably the most important person in the field of cannabis research because of this discovery. THC is a lot like an endogenous cannabinoid called anandamide. Structurally, it is very similar, and it behaves at the CB1 receptor in a like fashion.

THC is renowned not only for its psychoactive effects, but for its effects on cognition, memory, sensory perception, pain, and sleep. People either love or hate THC – there’s usually no middle ground. The psychoactive effect is extremely peculiar to cannabis and for some people, it’s a heavenly reprieve from the business of life. For others, it’s a catalyst for anxiety and paranoia. 

What is THC used for?

Many people use high-THC strains of cannabis recreationally, but it has many medicinal applications. Examples include:

Which strains contain THC?

Virtually every strain of cannabis contains THC – this is what most cannabis is grown for! The only strains that contain no or very little THC are those specifically grown for CBD content, which is usually the hemp plant. You can pretty much guarantee that the piece of weed you pick up at a dispensary contains THC, and just how much of it will vary from strain to strain.

CBD – Cannabidiol

The next most common and well known cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD). This cannabinoid didn’t receive a lot of attention for a long time because nobody really knew it was there. However, after THC was isolated, CBD was soon to follow (and many more after that). Once CBD piqued the interest of scientists, it became clear that there was a medicinal application for this cannabinoid too, and public interest continued to grow.

Hemp plants are usually higher in CBD content than marijuana, but many breeders are now growing strains of marijuana that contain less THC and higher CBD content. The reason for this is that marijuana flowers grow bigger and bushier than hemp flowers, and therefore yield better results for breeders and growers. 

Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive. It has the same chemical formula as THC, but its chemical structure is different, allowing it to behave differently at cannabinoid receptors in the body. Some people say that CBD actually counteracts the effects of THC, creating a more balanced effect in strains that have both THC and CBD in high quantities.

What is CBD used for?

CBD is used by many people as a therapeutic compound, although the world of medicine is still learning about the full potential of this cannabinoid. Various conditions can be treated with CBD, including:

  • Seizures and epilepsy
  • Mood disorders (anxiety and depression)
  • Fatigue
  • Pain and inflammation
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia

It’s worth mentioning that CBD is a preferred option for those who are sensitive to THC. Because it doesn’t have psychoactive properties, many people find therapeutic relief in CBD without the unwanted side effects of THC.

Which strains contain CBD?

As a major cannabinoid, most strains contain some level of CBD, although many only contain very little. Hemp varieties often contain higher concentrations of CBD. Our Sweet Pure CBD strain is bred specifically for its higher CBD content, and other strains such as Harlequin, Cannatonic and ACDC also contain higher concentrations of CBD. 

CBN – Cannabinol 

Cannabinol (CBN) is a minor cannabinoid and is found in very small concentrations in marijuana flowers – usually less than 1%. It typically shows up in plants that have been left to mature for a little longer as CBN is the natural product of oxidation of THC. 

CBN is marketed as a non-psychoactive cannabinoid because it has to be used in extremely large quantities for it to produce a psychoactive effect. Although not an awful lot is known about this cannabinoid, people are highly interested in it as another non-psychoactive alternative to THC. Very few studies have been conducted, but overall it’s considered to be a “sleepy” cannabinoid and one that assists to regulate mood and pain.

What is CBN used for?

As we just mentioned, the most common use for CBN seems to be in its sedative qualities – it’s a sleepy cannabinoid. Only one rodent study seems to support this hypothesis, but there are many anecdotal reports of cannabis users using CBN to assist with sleep. Aside from this, CBN can also be used for:

  • Mood regulation
  • Muscle relaxation

Which strains contain CBN?

Green Crack and Lemon Kush are the two most popular strains for their CBN content. However, as we mentioned, CBN is produced when THC is oxidized and is exposed to UV light. So the only way breeders can maximize CBN content is to let flowers mature – especially in the presence of sunlight. 

CBG – Cannabigerol

During the development of the cannabis plant, cannabigerol (CBG) is the first cannabinoid that flowers produce, and it is during the maturation of flowering that CBG is converted to THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. That’s why some people refer to CBG as the “mother of all cannabinoids”. Because virtually all strains produce CBG at first, when breeders want a high CBG flower, they usually harvest them before they’re fully mature. By the time the flowers are completely mature, there’s very little CBG left.

In the USA, there is a wide variety of products containing CBG, including tinctures and gummies. CBG products are harder to find in countries where cannabis has only just been legalized or where it is illegal because plants essentially have to be grown specifically for higher CBG concentrations. 

There is still ongoing research as to how CBG can be used therapeutically and most studies have been conducted only on animals or in very small human sample sizes. So according to the medics, the jury is still out on exactly what purpose this cannabinoid serves in the medical world. 

It is non-psychoactive like CBD, and again is preferred by people wanting the therapeutic effects of cannabis without the stoned effect. Many people use CBG as a sleep aid and to reduce pain and inflammation.

What is CBG used for?

There is very little research that supports the use of CBG for therapeutic purposes, and our understanding of this cannabinoid is still growing. However, anecdotal reports say that CBG has the following effects:

  • Sedative
  • Reduces pain and inflammation
  • Stimulates the appetite

Which strains contain CBG?

Many strains across the world are cultivated for their higher CBG content – and as the mother of all cannabinoids, it’s not hard to get a high CBG strain. The most popular include White CBG, Lemon Diesel CBG, and White Widow. 

CBC – Cannabichromene

The third most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana is cannabichromene (CBC). Although it isn’t well known, most strains contain some CBC, even if it’s just a little bit. Unlike THC and CBD, CBC doesn’t care much for cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it’s thought to enhance the work of other cannabinoids present in a sample. It also works at the TRPA1 receptor – a receptor that is known to play a role in pain perception and modulation in the human body.

Overall, it’s thought that CBC works best when used with other cannabinoids rather than on its own. This is probably due to the fact that it enhances the effects of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, rather than having medicinal effects in and of itself. It’s a potentiator of cannabis preparations.

What is CBC used for?

As we talked about, CBC is not all that therapeutic on its own. Rather, it strengthens the effect of other cannabinoids when they are all present in a preparation together. Having said that, research suggests that the most pertinent use for CBC is the reduction of pain and inflammation

Which strains contain CBC?

Charlotte’s Web and Maui Dream are the two most well known strains that contain higher concentrations of CBC. Like CBG, CBC can be found in many cannabis preparations such as tinctures, gummies, and even vaping products.

The tip of the iceberg

This article only just begins to scratch the surface of what’s actually present in a single cannabis flower. There are hundreds of different compounds in marijuana, of which over 100 have been identified as cannabinoids – and we’ve only mentioned 5 different cannabinoids in this article! Many of them are likely only present in very, very small concentrations, but as we’ve seen with CBC, there’s no knowing just how much each cannabinoid contributes to the overall effect of a plant. 

Cannabis is a highly complex, bioactive plant, and while most people only talk about THC and CBD, there’s a whole world of complexity going on inside each and every cannabis flower. As the world of medical cannabis research continues to grow, we will likely discover more and more cannabinoids, their uses, and how they can be applied in the arena of natural medicine. 

Sera has been a cannabis writer for over 8 years and is a natural medicine enthusiast. With a bachelor degree in naturopathy, she is passionate about all things plants, botany, and writing.