What Are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). You’ve probably heard of the two most famous cannabinoids, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). There are hundreds of different compounds in cannabis, but only some of them are classified as cannabinoids. Other cannabinoids that are beginning to get recognition from the public include delta-8 THC, CBG, CBN, and THCA.
Cannabinoids and their ratio in a cannabis product can produce different effects on consumers. Researchers are beginning to uncover the fact that when it comes to user experience and treating certain conditions with medical cannabis, terpene and cannabinoid profiles are far more important than whether a strain is sativa or indica.
Let’s explore the three most well-known cannabinoids, what they are known for, and the differences between them.
Up first is probably the most famous cannabinoid of all time–delta-9 THC, or THC for short. Think of this as classic THC. This is the THC you heard about in health class growing up. This phytocannabinoid is famous for its psychoactive effects, or “high,” it produces when consumed. The effects of delta-9 THC are usually increased appetite, elation, relaxation, talkativeness, and laughter. Consuming delta-9 THC at high levels has also been linked to negative side effects, such as paranoia or anxiety.
There is research to support that delta-9 THC has the potential to treat a wide range of medical conditions. The strongest evidence exists for analgesia (pain relief), nausea and vomiting, and some neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
Cannabidiol (CBD) is psychoactive in the sense that it can influence mood (e.g., reduced anxiety), but unlike THC it does not produce a high or altered mental state when consumed. It is often sold in the form of tinctures that are administered sublingually. However, with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill and the expansion of the CBD market, you can now find CBD in almost all forms, including flower, edibles, and concentrates. There are a few different types of CBD, including CBD isolate (which contains only CBD and no other cannabinoids), broad-spectrum (which contains all the cannabinoids naturally present in the cannabis plant minus THC), and full-spectrum (which contains all of the cannabinoids, including THC).
CBD has been studied extensively for its analgesic, anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing), and anti-inflammatory properties. CBD is a powerful antioxidant more potent than both vitamin C or E. Research is still in its infancy, but there is powerful evidence that CBD possesses medicinal properties that could help patients with a variety of different medical conditions.
Although it does not produce a feeling of intoxication, consuming CBD can make the user experience a heightened sense of relaxation, drowsiness, dry mouth, and decreased appetite.
Delta-8 THC is a phytocannabinoid produced by cannabis and hemp plants in small amounts. It is a common misconception that delta-8 THC is a synthetic, or man-made, cannabinoid. The delta-8 THC products you see at the store are not made of a synthetic cannabinoids like the synthetic marijuana pharmaceutical product dronabinol or the dangerous street drug K2/Spice.
Delta-8 THC does occur naturally in the cannabis plant, but since it only occurs in small amounts, scientists have found a way to extract more of it from CBD through a process called isomerization. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill allowed CBD and therefore delta-8 products to flood the market due to its legalization and regulation of hemp.
Delta-8 THC produces some of the same effects as delta-9 THC, including heightened relaxation and increased appetite. It produces a less potent high than delta-9 THC as well as greater focus and energy levels.
Although researchers are just beginning to study the medical benefits delta-8 THC may have for patients, there is already evidence that it may help relieve nausea and vomiting, stimulate appetite, and help with seizures.
Now that we have covered all the specifics of delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC, and CBD, let’s briefly review the differences between them.
Delta-9 THC produces the most intense high, or feeling of intoxication. Similarly, delta-8 THC also produces a high, though it is less potent. CBD does not produce a high when consumed. Both delta-8 and delta-9 THC can help stimulate appetite, while CBD taken in isolation may decrease appetite.
A consumer may experience negative effects when consuming delta-9 THC, such as paranoia or anxiety due to the potent high. However, these negative side effects are less likely to occur when consuming delta-8 THC due to its less potent high. CBD has anxiolytic properties that decrease the likelihood of you experiencing any negative effects like those mentioned above.
Delta-8 and delta-9 THC will show up on a drug test, but CBD isolate will not. It’s important to note that if you consume broad-spectrum or full-spectrum CBD, it’s possible that it may show up on a drug test because it contains all the other cannabinoids.
Finally, the legality of each of these cannabinoids differs. CBD and delta-8 THC are technically legal under the Farm Bill. However, there is some gray area surrounding delta-8 THC in particular. Some states have outlawed delta-8 THC due to the unregulated nature of the market in the name of consumer safety. Delta-9 THC is legal in states that have a recreational or medical cannabis program for adults or patients registered with the state.