Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that contribute to the medicinal and therapeutic properties of cannabis. There have been over 100 cannabinoids identified. Two of the best-known and well-studied cannabinoids are Tetrahydracannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
Cannabis plants each have unique amounts of cannabinoids. For example, a plant might contain 15% (by weight) of THC, 4% of CBD, and 3% of CBN, and 2% other cannabinoids. A different plant may contain 17% CBD and 3% THC. These combinations in plants are called cannabinoid profiles.
Cannabinoids offer an array of medical benefits. For example, THC is effective in reducing nausea and stimulating appetite. CBD can be an effective anxiolytic and antispasmodic. THCa is a powerful anti-inflammatory. CBN has demonstrated efficacy when treating insomnia. Many cannabinoids provide cross-benefits—some of the therapeutic benefits of one cannabinoid overlap with those of other cannabinoids—and clinical studies have suggested that cannabinoids work together to produce a synergy of benefits. This synergy is called the entourage effect.
Understanding the benefits and effects of cannabinoids, and having information about the cannabinoid profile, can help you identify which cannabis medicines can benefit you.
For more information about cannabinoids, see Cannabinoids 101: What Makes Cannabis Medicine?
Terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in plant resin (the essential oils), and they contribute to the scent, flavor, and colors of plants. There are over 200 terpenes identified in cannabis, many that have their own pharmacological benefits. For example, myrcene is an effective sleep aid, pinene increases mental focus and energy, and beta-caryophyllene is an anti-inflammatory.
For more information about terpenes, see Terpenes: What are Terpenoids and What Do They Do?
Species and Strain Names
Many cannabis plants and products are identified as an indica, as a sativa, or as a hybrid of the two species. It’s commonly repeated that sativas are uplifting and energizing and therefore are good for daytime use, and that indicas are relaxing and calming and therefore good for nighttime use. Additionally, many plants have common strain names, such as Blue Dream, OG Kush, or Trainwreck, and these strains have qualities commonly attributed to them, as well.
In fact, species and strain labels are not particularly good at predicting the chemistry of any cannabis plant. The medicinal effects of cannabis are better predicted by identifying the dominant cannabinoids and terpenes, rather than by relying species designation or strain name.
See Indica Vs. Sativa: Understanding the Differences for a good overview of the differences and misconceptions about cannabis species.
What to look for when purchasing cannabis products
The cannabis industry is an unregulated market, so it’s imperative that you are knowledgeable about the products that you use. Ensure that you obtain your cannabis medicines from organizations that are legally established and that operate within the requirements of California State law. Also, use medications only from sources that offer the following:
- Lab testing for cannabinoid potency
- Lab testing for terpene profiles
- Lab testing for residual solvents, mold, and pesticides
- Information about extraction methods
If you’re looking for information about cannabis research, The Agathist Collective recommends that you start here:
The University of California, San Diego Center for Medical Cannabis Research website includes a list of completed cannabis research projects.
The Norml website includes a review of recent scientific literature (from 2000 to 2013).
The following table lists medicinal benefits of cannabis and which cannabinoids are most effective at providing those benefits:
|Analgesic (reduces pain)||X||X||X||X|
|Anti-inflammatory (reduces inflammation)||X||X||X||X||X|
|Anti-insomnia (encourages sleep)||X|
|Anti-sleep Apnea (reduces sleep apnea)||X|
|Antidepressant (assists with depression)||X||X|
|Anxiolytic (relieves anxiety)||X|
|Antispasmodic (relieves muscle spasms)||X||X||X||X|
|Antiepilectic (supresses seizures)||X||X|
|Neuroprotectant (protects against neurodegenerative disease and repairs damaging effects)||X|
|Intestinal anti-prokinetic (reduces intestinal contractions)||X||X|
|Antiemetic (reduces nausea)||X||X|
|Appetite Stimulant (increases appetite)||X|
|Appetite Suppressant (reduces appetite)||X|
|Antibacterial (inhibits bacterial growth)||X||X|
|Antimicrobial (inhibits micro-organism growth)||X|
|Anti-oxidant (prevents cell damage)||X||X|
|Antipsoriatic (reduces itching)||X|
|Antidiabetic (reduces diabetic symptoms)||X|
|Antiproliferative (inhibits tumor cell growth)||X||X||X||X||X|
|Anti-ischemic (reduces risk of artery blockage)||X|
|Vasorelaxant (encourages blood flow)||X|