Cannabinoids, Phytocannabinoids and Endocannabinoids

Cannabinoids is a word that is often used when it comes to cannabis and health. The word refers to every chemical that is able to bound with the cannabinoids receptors found in our body & have similair effect to those produced by the cannabis plant. However cannabinoids themselves could be produced in our bodies and plants. The bounding of these chemicals with receptors results in many different medicinal properties. The name of the system of all these receptors in our body is called “The Endocannabinoid-system”

Cannabinoids are a very large group of chemicals/substances that can be looked at in different ways, however the most populair way to classify them is this:

  • Phytocannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Synthetic cannabinoids


Phytocannabinoids are a specific type of cannabinoids (So chemicals that can bound with the receptors in our endocannabinoid-system), that can only be produced by the Cannabis plant. Most Phytocannabinoids are formed due a process called decarboboxylation which means that the chemical structure changes due light, heat or alkaline-conditions. Before that they are in their “acidic state” and won’t be (psycho)-active.

Phytocannabinoids can be found in the resin produced by the trichomes found on the cannabis plant. This resin also contains terpenes which take care of the smell and taste of the cannabis. Phytocannabinoids are pretty good soluble in alcohol, fat or other non-polar organic solvents.

Right now around 500 different chemical compounds are found in the cannabis plant, +- 70 of them can be labeled as cannabinoids. The most well known is: Δ9-THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Others are: Cannabidiol (CBD) & Cannabinol (CBN).

Different types of Phytocannabinoids:

  • Cannabigerols (CBG)
  • Cannabichromenes (CBC)
  • Cannabidiols (CBD)
  • Cannabinol (CBN)
  • Cannabinodiol (CBDL)
  • Cannabicyclol (CBL)
  • Cannabielsoin (CBE)
  • Cannabitriol (CBT)
  • Cannabivarin (CBV)
  • Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
  • Cannabichromevarin (CBCV)
  • Cannabigerovarin (CBGV)
  • Cannabigerol Monoethyl Ether (CBGM)
  • Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC)
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)


Endocannabinoids on the other hand, is a type of cannabinoid that you won’t find in any plants. These endogenous molcules are produced by almost all organisms in the animal kingdom and able to bound with the receptors in the endocannabinoid system. This will keep your endocannabinoid system in balance without consuming phytocannabinoids. If your body isn’t able to produce enough of a certain Endocannabinoid, it will help to consume similair Phytocannabinoids.

The 2 main Endocannabinoids that are important are the anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine or ANA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). They act as natural keys to the 2 main cannabinoids receptors: CB1 & CB2. Once they bound, the receptors will activate and takes subsequent action.

The molucular structure of the anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine or ANA) Endocannabinoid.

CB1 receptors will be mainly found in the central nervous system and will take care of the effectsmediated by neuronal processes and psychoactive effects. On the other hand, the CB2 receptors are mostly located in the immune system and is responsible for most immunomodulatory effects in our body.

Synthetic cannabinoids

The main difference between phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids is that the latter are fully synthetic and created in the laboratory. An example of it would be dronabinol (Δ9-THC synthetic), which is the active compound of MARINOL®, a medicine that comes in capsules and has been consumed in the US since 1985 to prevent nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and loss of weight. Another example would be nabilone, that is the active substance of CESAMET®, a medicine approved for the nausea and vomiting control caused by cancer chemotherapy. Both medicinal products have been approved for these purposes in the US, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada and Spain. More recently, some selective cannabinoids for CB1 receptor, such as JHW-018 y JHW-073, have been used as psychoactive ingredients in smart drugs marketed as imitations of Cannabis effects. One of the names used for these drugs is “Spice”. There is not much information about the effects of synthetic cannabinoids in humans, although some of them have already shown to cause more distress and panic than phytocannabinoids. Synthetic cannabinoids have been designed as research tools for cannabinoid scientific studies, however, they have never shown to be reliable for human consumption in clinical testing. In theory, they should have never left the laboratory where they where designed and synthesised.

Basic introduction to the main non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids

The Cannabis plant contains many phytocannabinoids with weak or null psychoactivity, which, from a therapeutic point of view, could be much more promising than Δ9-THC.

CBD is an important non-psychotropic phytocannabinoid that produces a large amount of pharmacological, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, among others, transmitted by several mechanisms. It has been clinically proven in cases of anxiety, psychosis and movement disorders, as well as to alleviate neuropathic pain in individuals suffering from multiple sclerosis (it is sometimes combined with Δ9-THC in a 1:1 proportion, as happens in SATIVEX®).

CBDA does not join CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, although it is an inhibitor of selective COX-2 with anti-inflammatory effects. However, it can join certain vanilloids receptors, but its effects are not fully understood yet. In addition to this, it does act against proliferation.

CBG acts against proliferation and as an antibacterial. It is a ligand from CB2 cannabinoid receptor and an inhibitor of the re-absorption of anandamide. Furthermore, it is a vanilloids ligand.

CBC can cause hypothermia, sedation and hypoactivity in mice. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory, an antimicrobial and a soft analgesic. Moreover, it is a powerful antagonist of vanilloids and a weak inhibitor of the re-absorption of anandamide.