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A list of major cannabinoids in cannabis and their effects

March 24, 2017
Adrienne Allen/Leafly
Cannabis produces a variety compounds known as cannabinoids, many of which have not been detected in any other plant. How many, exactly? It’s hard to say. You’ll often see people report that there are dozens, or even 100+ plant cannabinoids produced by cannabis. But it’s difficult to know the precise number. Most of them are present at very low levels, especially in commercial cannabis products, making it difficult for scientists to accurately detect them. The important point is that there are many. Let’s take a closer look at some of the major cannabinoids that can be found in cannabis products.

8 major cannabinoid acids produced by cannabis

Cannabis doesn’t directly make the most famous cannabinoids associated with the plant, THC and CBD. Instead, it synthesizes several cannabinoid acids (Figure 1). These cannabinoid acids must be “activated” (decarboxylated), usually by heat, to yield the compounds that most consumers are after (THC or CBD). But in addition to THCA and CBDA, there are number of related cannabinoid acids that can be produced by cannabis. These are:

  • CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
  • THCA9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
  • CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
  • CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)
  • CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
  • THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)
  • CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)
  • CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)

Figure 1: Biosynthetic pathway resulting in production of cannabinoid acids. Each cannabinoid acid can be subsequently decarboxylated into a corresponding cannabinoid, such as THC, CBD, or THCV.


THCA and CBDA are usually the most abundant cannabinoids in strains. The others shown in Figure 1 are normally present at much lower levels. The major cannabinoid acids include CBGA, THCA, CBDA, and CBCA. CBGA is the starting compound that enzymes in the plant use to make the other three. In addition to these, there are an equal number of corresponding “V” compounds with slightly shorter chemical structures: CBGVA, THCVA, CBDVA, and CBCVA.


What Is THCA & What Are the Benefits of This Cannabinoid?

Cannabinoid acids are not known to produce intoxicating effects like THC. But they do have a variety of interesting properties. For example, many cannabinoid acids have antibiotic or insecticidal properties. This is likely related to the reason cannabis produces these compounds in the first place: to defend itself.

Plant cannabinoids are made from cannabinoid acids

When cannabinoid acids are exposed to heat energy, they lose the “A” part and turn into neutral, rather than acidic, plant cannabinoids (Figure 2).

Decarboxylation examples with THCA to THC

Figure 2: Decarboxylation examples, with THCA being converted to THC. The other cannabinoid acids can also be decarboxylated into their cannabinoid counterparts. (Amy Phung/Leafly)


Following decarboxylation, each of the cannabinoid acids yields a corresponding cannabinoid compound:


What is CBG (cannabigerol) & what does this cannabinoid do?

Most cannabinoids will not get you high

THC is the only plant cannabinoid that you know for sure has clear intoxicating effects on its own. There is some evidence to suggest that THCV may also have intoxicating effects, although whether it does may depend on dose. However, like most other plant cannabinoids, THCV is usually not present in significant quantities in commercial strains and cannabis products.

While most plant cannabinoids are not intoxicating themselves, their presence can influence how THC affects you. The best example of this comes from CBD. Even though it wouldn’t get you high by itself, it influences the way that THC interacts with the CB1 receptors in your endocannabinoid system, and can therefore influence exactly how a cannabis product will affect you.


CBD vs. THC: What’s the difference?

THCV may also influence THC’s effects. At relatively low doses, THCV appears to diminish THC’s ability to activate CB1 receptors, like CBD. However, at relatively high doses, THCV may start to activate CB1 receptors, like THC. The exact dose that you consume can greatly influence how a compound affects you. But because THCV and the other, lesser-known cannabinoids are generally less abundant in cannabis, they have also been studied much less. There’s a lot more for us to learn about their effects in humans.

THC can turn into CBN

Another plant cannabinoid you may have heard about is cannabinol (CBN). This is another example of a plant cannabinoid that is not directly synthesized by cannabis. Instead, CBN is a breakdown product of THC. This is why older flower products will tend to have more CBN, especially when not properly stored. With time and exposure to oxygen, THC gradually breaks down into CBN.


What Is CBN (Cannabinol) & What Are the Benefits of This Cannabinoid?

CBN has been observed to result in greater sedation when combined with THC, and may also have anticonvulsant (anti-seizure), anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties. However, this is another example of understudied plant cannabinoid, and more work needs to be done before we can be confident in its precise effects.


Izzo AA, Borrelli F, Capasso R, Di marzo V, Mechoulam R. Non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids: new therapeutic opportunities from an ancient herb. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2009;30(10):515-27. PDF
Mechoulam R. Plant cannabinoids: a neglected pharmacological treasure trove. Br J Pharmacol. 2005;146(7):913-5. PDF
Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-64. PDF

Nick Jikomes's Bio Image

Nick Jikomes

Nick is Leafly's principal research scientist and holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University and a B.S. in genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been a professional cannabis researcher and data scientist since 2016.

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  • Flo Turcot

    Can u please tell me what dosage to take for pain relief from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, COPD? I am taking the oil 10;10 AND AT 0.5 ml. 2-3 x daily. I feel that I need to take more. Started with 1:20 didn’t help at all. Have no idea what amount to take. Can u advise me please. My doctor is learning from me so not much help there.

    • There is no answer for this as everyone is different. Like most things it is trial and error. In cannabis’s case there is a lot of room for error as the toxicity levers are practically null. Perhaps your CBD oil is not up to snuff. It is combination of compounds that does the most good. We have some cannabis flowers here that has low CBD but really helps the pain.

      • Flo Turcot

        Would they need to be smoked? COPD prevents that method for me (I think). Can we purchase from you here in Canada?

        • You should never need to inhale it. When you inhale it you get most of the medicine in your brain. Which can me the right approach for many medical conditions but in my experience if the pain is in your body you want the meds in your body. You are better off eating it.

          • kariolis

            WHoa you re an expert ,man

          • Nicole Jacobs

            I know this is a year old, but I read that when you inhale you get 30% of the cannabinoids and only 5% if you consume edibles. I agree with smoking being a head high and edibles being a body high. Thoughts?

          • Was there any sort of scientific evidence to support these numbers?

          • Nicole Jacobs

            There was, I believe. I try to not shoot stuff out of my mouth that is questionable, but it happens. Let me find the study!

          • It’s true that inhaling is very different than consuming an edible. Vaping allows direct absorption into your bloodstream and eating requires metabolism through your liver first. The amount that is bioavailable is greater and faster with vaping. How much exactly depends on a few factors. It’s the metabolism vs. direct absorption that explains the differences in how you feel.

          • Alex

            No, when you inhale you are getting the medicine into your blood via your lungs

          • Correct. Then it crosses the blood brain barrier and enters your brain. The process by which it crosses the blood brain barrier is known as Osmosis. When you inhale the rapid concentration in the blood actually increases the rate of Osmosis and results in it rapidly entering your brain. This is the precise mechanism by which inhaling puts more of it into your brain then eating it.

          • holtmansfield 3+

    • AT 0.5 ml what is the dosage? How many milligrams of THC & CBD?

      For most tinctures that is a VERY small dose. I would recommend increasing your dosage by 0.5 ml per day until you find relief. If you are in Canada you need to apply for your MMPR. I would recommend you make an appointment with MCRCI.

  • Dr Kevin B. Orr

    I have pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), have had it for some years. The dyspnoea it causes comes on now with the slightest effort and takes a long while to settle down even with 4li. of oxygen. I know cannabis or etc have not been used in this condition but I wonder if the euphoria it produces might take the edge off this most distressing of symptoms. I would like to give it a try but how do I obtain it in NSW and what dose? It seems to me to be a worthwhile experiment. KBO

    • Alex

      Look into vaping and or edibles as smoke may be too harsh especially with breathing difficulties. As for how to get a hold of it… ask some university kids haha

    • Rohmahn

      If you prefer edible or topical solutions CBD comes in myriads of application methods. Just know the Farmer/Processor/Merchant you are buying from, get a reputable source and make sure it is full spectrum of whatever you get!

  • Jack Brossard

    Try isodiols spectreus one of the purest and best tinctures with all your cannaboids.

  • Judy Clemmer

    I used edibles about 5 years ago and am trying to select a product that was as effective as the one I used then. I was suffering the same issues then as I am now. Body pain and insomnia issues. The product I used was recommended to me by the sales staff at a dispensary that was located in Lake Forrest. That facility is no longer there and I don’t know where they have relocated to. The product they recommended was an edible brownie. Each one cost $10.00 and was good for 4 servings. I was instructed to take the product about 1.5 hours before bedtime. I was told that as soon as began to feel the effects I should go to bed. It was amazing. I slept through the night and my pain was reduced substantially. Trying to shop online is so confusing. Does anyone have a recommendation on a product on the Laguna Woods Medical Cannabis Collection that would give me the same results?

    • Mrs. THC

      Hi there. I really hope this can help! You can make your own special brownies at home. Use a pound of clarified butter and an ounce of bud (or trim or whatever else you have). Decarb the weed by grinding it (you can use a bladed coffee grinder if needs be) and then heating it in the oven on a cookiesheet at 240 degrees for about 60 -80 minutes. Then use a slow cooker and put the butter and decarb’d weed in for as long as you can wait 6 hours works great, and strain out the weed with cheesecloth. Pour that into silicone ice cube trays if you’d like an easy serving size. Replace the butter in your recipe with the cannabutter you just made.

  • James Tripp

    THC acid does not degrade into CBN!

    delta-9 THC is the result of decarboxylating THC acid and D9THC can then also isomerize into Delta 8 THC, but both Delta 9 as well as Delta 8 THC can degrade into the cannabinoid molecule CBN.

    isomerization involves a rearranging of the molecules to change delta-9 THC to Delta 8 THC but degradation removes certain molecules from the chain in order to create CBN.

  • Wonderful article and research. We appreciate the knowledge as we help many customers/patients with their questions regarding our web store items and serving size amounts. Have a great day and keep up the good work!

  • Mcozy333

    568 total constituents parts in the cannabis plant …. 148 are phytocannabinoids . 568 minus 148 = 420

  • Jortiz3

    Very dumbed-down presentation. Just because we’re stoners doesn’t mean we can’t understand science.

  • Maria Klassen

    Hi I’m on 0.5 mi clonipin per day and I’m trying to get off these pills I’m using CBD oil does anyone have any help