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What are cannabinoids? Uses and benefits

Cannabinoids are all compounds that interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system. Different types of cannabinoids can be found, although the most well-known are phytocannabinoids, substances found in Cannabis Sativa L. However, these are not the only ones, as our body, like that of many other animals, also produces the so-called cannabinoids. Here we will explain in detail what each type of cannabinoid consists of.

What types of cannabinoids exist?

The human body has an endocannabinoid system, which consists of endocannabinoids themselves and cannabinoid receptors. This system is essential for the proper functioning of our body, as it is responsible for homeostasis (the internal balance of our body).

Phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids are called traditional cannabinoids. However, we can find two other types: 

  • Synthetic cannabinoids: they do not develop naturally, as they are created in laboratories.
  • Cannabimimetics are components and cannabinoids found in other plants different from Cannabis Sativa L. These interact with our receptors similarly to traditional cannabinoids.


Cannabinoids are not only the chemicals found in marijuana plants, and there are also other types. They all have in common that they interact with our endocannabinoid system, activating the receptors of this system. Some of these cannabinoids are:

These are those present in Cannabis Sativa L. plants, that is, in marijuana plants. You are probably more familiar with terms like THC or CBD. Well, these are just two of the more than 100 cannabinoids that are identified and can be found in a cannabis plant.

CBD is one of the non-psychoactive cannabinoids used for therapeutic purposes, in different types of CBD creams, oils, or CBD gummies, and other products of all kinds.

Other well-known cannabinoids are CBG, CBC, or CBL. Of all of them, THC is responsible for providing the psychoactive effect when it comes into contact with the cannabinoid receptors in our body. Likewise, the quantity and type of cannabinoids found in a plant differ depending on the plant variety. Thus, each plant contains between 3 or 4 cannabinoids with levels exceeding 0.1%

what are cannabinoids


Endocannabinoids are another type of traditional cannabinoid, along with phytocannabinoids. Unlike the latter, they are generated by our body and are part, along with cannabinoid receptors, of our endocannabinoid system (ECS).

They are endogenous ligands, specifically, neurotransmitters and neurohormones. There are exogenous ligands, that is, those that come from outside our body (such as phytocannabinoids); and endogenous ligands (our endocannabinoids). Neurotransmitters are molecules that transfer information from one neuron to another. 

Meanwhile, neurohormones perform the same function, but with hormones. Some neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, etc., and the neurohormone we can highlight is oxytocin.

As can be seen, the function of endocannabinoids and, in general, of the endocannabinoid system, is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Thus, a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system can lead to diseases such as cystic fibrosis, fibromyalgia, depression, anorexia, autism, or Parkinson’s, among others.

The two most well-known and studied endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These come into contact with cannabinoid receptors to regulate appetite, temperature, the immune system, fat metabolism, emotions, memory, pain, etc.

Depending on which receptor is activated, a different effect will occur in our body. Although there are many more, only two have been classified to date:

  • CB1 is located in the central nervous system, the gastrointestinal tract, adipose cells, the liver parenchyma, and skeletal muscles. 
  • Meanwhile, CB2 receptors are found in immune cells.

Synthetic cannabinoids

As the name suggests, synthetic cannabinoids are those developed in a laboratory. Unlike phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids, these do not develop naturally and, therefore, are not traditional cannabinoids. Synthetics have been exclusively designed for scientific research for health purposes, as the numerous therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids are known.

However, not enough research has been done on the effects synthetic cannabinoids may have on our body. In fact, some researchers have stated that the consumption of synthetic cannabinoids may increase anxiety and panic in people.

Nevertheless, there are drugs created with synthetic cannabinoids, some of these are dronabinol and nabilone. Dronabinol is the active ingredient in Marinol, while nabilone is the active ingredient in Cesamet. Both are drugs to alleviate nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy.


As we have deduced, cannabinoids extracted from plants and those generated by our body are not the only ones capable of activating ECS receptors. They can also be activated by the aforementioned synthetics and by mimetic cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids of this type are molecules of natural origin or synthesis that mimic (hence their name) the action of cannabinoids on CB1 and CB2 receptors. That is, they act very similarly to phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids without belonging to a marijuana plant and without being generated by our body.

So, where do mimetic cannabinoids come from? It’s curious, there are other plants that also have cannabinoid molecules. Echinacea, black pepper, and rosemary are some of them. This means that when we consume any of these plants in any of their variants, these cannabinoids enter our body and activate the receptors of our endocannabinoid system, thus producing some effect to regulate our body.

For example, echinacea has anti-inflammatory benefits and combats anxiety and stress.

Where are cannabinoids generated?

Cannabinoids develop in the trichomes of plants and help them survive, as they serve as defense against pests and extreme temperatures. 

The first cannabinoid generated in the plant is CBG, specifically, its acidic form (CBGA). From this synthesis, other cannabinoids are created in their acidic form: THCA, CBDA, CBCA… While the plant is alive, cannabinoids are only found in their acidic form. Thus, for these cannabinoids to become active, they must undergo a decarboxylation process

This process involves the application of heat, that is, when smoked or vaporized. To make cannabis recipes, it is necessary to pass the flowers through an oven beforehand to activate their cannabinoids.

Once phytocannabinoids have become active, they can interact with our cannabinoid receptors. When they come into contact with the receptors, the effects of these cannabinoids on our body are produced: in the case of THC, it will produce the psychoactive effect (although it also has some medicinal properties), and in the case of others, such as CBD, therapeutic benefits can be obtained.

It should be mentioned that cannabinoids obtained from plants have been used for millennia by humans for spiritual, therapeutic, and recreational purposes.

Benefits of cannabinoids


The benefits of the different types of cannabinoids are related to the effect they have on our body. While synthetic cannabinoids are not recommended for human consumption, the other mentioned cannabinoids do have therapeutic and medicinal benefits. Benefits that can be obtained:

      • Endocannabinoids: it’s not that they are beneficial, but they are essential for our proper functioning. For example, they are necessary in the early stages of mammalian development: in embryo implantation and, later, to enable breastfeeding.

      • Phytocannabinoids can also be related to neuroprotection. Thus, THC and its acidic form (THCA) are neuroprotective. Ongoing scientific research discovers the numerous medicinal benefits of other phytocannabinoids such as CBD or CBG. These substances, moreover, do not have psychoactive effects like THC. Thus, the symptoms of some diseases can be alleviated with the use of medicinal cannabis, such

        as Alzheimer’s, Tourette’s syndrome, insomnia, chronic pain, migraines, etc.

      • Some cannabimimetics found in plants other than marijuana can also have health benefits. Thus, they can have anti-inflammatory properties, combat toothache, stomach upset, and even alleviate stuttering.

    Now that you know all these curious facts about the different cannabinoids, you can maximize their consumption depending on the goals you pursue.

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    Erik Collado

    Con más de 10 años de experiencia en la industria del cannabis, sus experiencias y aprendizaje son la base del éxito de GB The Green Brand.

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