What’s in This Anyway? A Closer Look at the Chemical Compounds of Cannabis

Written by: Jamie Lee

Widely studied by chemists like Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the cannabis plant is highly diverse. In fact, it contains more than 500 chemical elements. Many are overlooked because they contain no benefits on their own. However, as discussed in The Entourage Effect from our most recent issue, these seemingly non-beneficial elements may still be needed to achieve optimal results. But what of the properties that do provide benefits on their own? Here we will examine these elements, including what they are, how they work, and why they are important.


A ‘cannabinoid’ refers to any component of marijuana that binds to and impacts your brain and body. They work by imitating endocannabinoids, which are naturally occurring chemicals in your body that regulate and balance appetite, mood, memory, and importantly, managing pain. THC and CBD are the most widely known, but there are more than 100 cannabinoids within the cannabis plant. However, only a few are considered beneficial on their own (isolates).


The most well-known cannabinoid, THC acts a self-defense for the plant, warding herbivores that may try to consume it. It has also been found to protect the plant from ultraviolet radiation. Once harnessed and made useful for human consumption, THC has many medicinal properties. Studies have found that THC decreases pain and increases appetite and relaxation.

More specifically, THC is helpful in reducing pain and symptoms in patients with arthritis, anxiety, Crohn’s disease, and other chronic pain conditions. Cancer patients who use THC also report that it reduces vomiting and nausea associated with chemotherapy. THC can also induce appetite, which may be helpful for people who are underweight.

Unfortunately, the continued federal prohibition of THC-containing products limits the scientific testing of this cannabinoid. Further, many states only allow the consumption of low-THC products. As such, there may be numerous other benefits of THC that have yet to be discovered.

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCa)

THCa is the cannabinoid found only in the raw cannabis plant. Once dried and heated through a process known as decarboxylation, this cannabinoid converts into THC. What is important to understand about THCa is that it does not have psychoactive properties like THC does. It is why most people do not consume “raw” buds. However, THCa does have its own unique medicinal properties, which are lost after the plant is dried. Found to have anti-inflammatory properties, it is commonly used for conditions like arthritis and menstrual cramps. THCa is also helpful to individuals who suffer from lupus and other chronic immune-system disorders, and its anti-spasmodic characteristics reduces muscle spasms and can control seizures. Some people juice their marijuana, and report energizing effects, but the actual benefits from this are still unclear.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Because CBD does not give users a feeling of being high, the uses of CBD have been better researched. Products high in CBD are also more accessible to medical patients than THC. Although it lacks a psychoactive component, CBD has been found to reduce anxiety, convulsions (primarily associated with epilepsy), nausea, and it can induce sleepiness, which may be helpful for those who suffer from insomnia or chronic conditions that hinder a patient’s ability to sleep. There is also some evidence that CBD creates an anti-psychotic effect for patients who suffer from psychosis (hallucinations) but the research is inconclusive.

Cannabichromene (CBC)

CBC, a lesser-known cannabinoid, has been found to reduce pain in medical patients. Unlike THC and CBD, it is often studied together with other cannabinoids. CBC also possesses unique anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce skin inflammation and may potentially improve acne and other common skin issues. CBC also fights bacteria, helps to relieve pain and anxiety, facilitates brain development, and stimulates bone growth.

Cannabinol (CBN)

CBN is a chemical compound that is produced when THC is exposed to light and oxygen. Though it still contains some psychoactive effects, it can reduce the “high” sensation one experiences when using “fresh” marijuana buds. Though usually considered an unwanted side effect of degraded marijuana, CBN does offer some unique benefits to medical marijuana users. It can reduce seizures in individuals with epilepsy, help with pain relief, and stimulates appetite. Recent studies also suggest that CBN may have antidepressant properties. CBN is also helpful for inducing sleep and is stronger than most over the counter sleep medicine.


Terpenes are the chemical compounds that give each strain of marijuana its own unique smell. Over 120 different kinds of terpenes have been identified in cannabis, and they are often the inspiration for the names of various strains. The most common type of terpene is myrcene, which gives an earthy smell that many say smells live cloves. Myrcene also occurs naturally in many other plants, like citrus fruits and eucalyptus. Although terpenes are not commonly sought after for their medicinal properties, the chemicals themselves can be helpful for medicinal patients. In general, terpenes are antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and have pain-relieving properties. Individual terpenes found in various strains may also offer additional unique medicinal properties. Ask your dispensary which terpenes are found in your favorite strains, or which terpenes may be most beneficial for your specific condition.

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