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What are cannabinoids?

What are cannabinoids?
April 20, 2024
4 min read

Cannabinoids are drugs produced by the cannabis plant. THC and CBD are the most common, but cannabis naturally produces around 100 different cannabinoids, which all work together in synergy. In this article, we will explain what you need to know about cannabinoids as a new medical cannabis patient.

What are cannabinoids?

Differences between THC and CBD

THC and CBD, although related, have very different effects on the mind and body. THC is psychoactive (or mind-altering), whereas CBD is not. Products containing CBD and no THC, such as CBD isolate, are not psychoactive. For this reason, medical cannabis patients often begin with CBD or low-THC products.

CBD and THC may be useful for different conditions, and some may benefit from a combination of the two. If you’d like to know more about the effects and benefits of these cannabinoids, please ask your prescriber.

What are minor cannabinoids?

Minor cannabinoids are a group of around 100 other cannabinoids found in cannabis aside from THC and CBD. All of these cannabinoids work in synergy to produce the effect of cannabis in a phenomenon known as the Entourage Effect.

All cannabinoids produced by the plant are synthesised using a single “mother cannabinoid”––CBGA. As the young cannabis plant grows, it produces CBGA, which is steadily converted to other cannabinoids over time.

Due to the historical prohibition of cannabis, research into minor cannabinoids is lacking. In the legacy market, cannabis was not bred for minor cannabinoid production, and plants were primarily selected for potency, resulting in a market dominated by high-THC cultivars. Nowadays, with regulated cultivation and improvements to cannabinoid testing, the focus is shifting away from THC. The production and health effects of minor cannabinoids is currently a large area of research, and more will become known in the coming years. New cultivars are being bred that are high in minor cannabinoids such as THCV and CBG, although these are yet to become widely available.

Cannabinoids and their effects

Cannabinoids act on cannabinoid receptors in the body, although not all are psychoactive. Individually, cannabinoids have various effects, and some may behave more like THC or more like CBD. THC-like effects can occur from certain minor cannabinoids, such as THCV and CBN, whereas others, such as CBG and CBC, are non-psychoactive. Many of the health effects and psychoactivity of minor cannabinoids have yet to be studied.

Cannabis only produces cannabinoids in their acid form (e.g. THCA, CBDA). These acid forms convert to the active forms of THC and CBD when they are heated in a vaporiser. Acid-form cannabinoids are non-psychoactive.

What minor cannabinoids are in my cannabis?

The only cannabinoids required to be tested are THC and CBD (and their acid forms). As a result, not all cannabis products have a comprehensive cannabinoid Certificate of Analysis (CoA). However, if it is available, you can find it on Catalyst or Canna Reviews.

Of the approximately 100 different minor cannabinoids present in cannabis, only a handful are commonly tested for. These are mainly CBN and CBG and sometimes include CBC, CBL, D8-THC, THCV, CBDV, and their acid forms. It is very rare that minor cannabinoids beyond these are analysed.

The ratio between these cannabinoids depends on the genetics of the plant. Some cultivars may be higher in certain cannabinoids than others, and some might contain only minuscule amounts that do not show up on a CoA. Despite being present in very small amounts, certain highly potent cannabinoids like THCP may still be pharmacologically relevant.  

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How do I get the most out of minor cannabinoids?

The active ingredients in cannabis all vaporise at different temperatures. If you vaporise below the boiling point of a certain cannabinoid or terpene, it will remain in the flower. If you vaporise above its boiling point, it will be vaporised. By targeting specific effects using terpenes and cannabinoids, the optimal temperature of your digital vaporiser can be set.

This is especially relevant for CBD, which boils at around 180°C, compared to THC which boils at around 160°C. This means that flower containing CBD should be vaporised at or above 180°C.

Certain minor cannabinoids such as THCV and CBC have very high boiling points – around 220°C. It is not recommended to vaporise above 205°C as benzene (a carcinogen) starts to form at this temperature. This is just below the point of combustion, and is a greater temperature than many vapes can reach.

Rotating between your prescribed flowers may make the differences in their effects more apparent. This may also have the benefit of slowing the development of tolerance.

Risks of cannabinoids

Treatment with cannabinoids comes with several risks, which your prescriber will explain during your consultation. These risks may be compounded by certain health issues, which your prescriber will consider when determining your suitability for medical cannabis. It is important to always be honest and transparent with your prescriber so they are able to arrive at a safe and effective treatment plan that works best for you.

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Disclaimer

Please note that this blog was not written by a licensed medical practitioner and therefore is not providing medical advice. We do not endorse the use of cannabis or any other illicit drugs. Like any medication, cannabis has potential negative side effects and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. For the latest information on cannabis prescription and use, please visit the TGA website. If you are considering cannabis as a treatment option, we encourage you to consult with a licensed healthcare professional.

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