Marijuana 101: Chemical Compounds Beyond Abbreviations

As a newcomer to the legal cannabis space, the alphabet soup of chemical chemotypes, or distinct chemical compounds, can be overwhelming. These abbreviations should not be dismissed because they indicate the chemical composition of cannabis plants, revealing the level of psychoactive and medicinal properties.

The abbreviations you have likely encountered are THC and CBD; however, according to “Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Potential,” there are more than 400 chemical compounds in cannabis, with 66 known cannabinoids. While each constituent plays an integral role in the chemical makeup of cannabis, this discussion will be limited to five of the 10 subclasses of cannabinoids.



The “Handbook of Cannabis” describes CBC, also known as cannabichromene, as “one of the most abundant naturally occurring cannabinoids,” yet it has not been extensively studied. However, according to Cannext, the limited research that has been conducted has shown that CBC, a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid, may have medicinal value by inhibiting the growth of fungus, relieving pain and reducing inflammation. It was also noted in a 2009 study that CBC works to moderate the psychotropic effects of THC.



Forensic Science and Medicine: Marijuana and the Cannabinoids,” indicates that CBG, also known as cannabigerol, was the first cannabinoid to be identified, and it was first discussed in a 1964 paper by Y. Gaoni and R. Mechoulam. CBG, a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid, can be found in marijuana, but it can also be found in hemp. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, including possible benefits for those suffering with inflammatory bowel disease.



Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid; however, in recent years, it has been argued that CBD has multiple medicinal properties. The most commonly reported medicinal property is that CBD can aid in the reduction of seizure activity, which has prompted several states to pass CBD-only bills. According to Leaf Science, CBD has also shown progress in treating psychosis, inflammatory disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, tumors, cancer, anxiety and depression disorders. With GW Pharmaceuticals developing CBD-based pharmaceutical drugs, CBD may be the key to unlocking marijuana’s full medical potential.



According to Medical Jane, Cannabinol, also known as CBN, is the chemical behind the sedative properties of cannabis. CBN is mildly psychoactive; however, Cannext has noted that increased levels of CBN can create an undesirable high, including symptoms of disorientation and lightheadedness. With lower levels of CBN, this cannabinoid has been known to aid sleep, inflammation, pain management and muscle spasms.



THC, also known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is perhaps the most commonly known cannabinoid in marijuana. Its psychotropic properties can be credited with creating most of the psychoactive effects of cannabis. According to Live Science, THC prompts the brain cells to release dopamine, causing euphoria, but it can also impair a person’s reaction time and motor skills. While THC is known for causing euphoric highs, it has been shown to have medicinal properties. According to Cannext, it can aid relaxation, pain management, appetite, inflammation and anxiety.

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