What are cannabinoids? A full explanation

Cannabinoids? Cannabidiol? Phytocannabinoids? Which one is which? It’s understandably confusing. We wrote this article to give you a full explanation of what exactly are cannabinoids, its types and origins.

Cannabinoids are a large group of active chemical compounds. These substances can be of natural or artificial origin; The most exciting part about them is their ability to interact with a type of receptors found across our entire body. These receptors form part of a complex system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

After lengthy discussions and comparisons between different cannabinoid classification systems, we believe the following list is the most accurate yet straightforward way to identify them.


Natural Cannabinoids


Natural occurring cannabinoids are broken down onto two main categories: Phytocannabinoids and Endocannabinoids.


It’s a term describing cannabinoids derived from plants only. Phytocannabinoids are often mistakenly named cannabinoids.

The plant which produces the largest amounts of phytocannabinoids is the Cannabis sativa L. They are produced by the trichomes, tiny resinous hairs covering mainly the flowers and leaves of female plants. 

Other plants that produce phytocannabinoids are echinacea (purple coneflower) and Liverwort, which grows wild in New Zealand.

Researchers have discovered around 100 different types, but this list keeps increasing at light speed thanks to the shifting attitudes towards Cannabis. Finally, modern science is allowed to investigate this powerful plant.

We can subclassify the phytocannabinoids as: 

Psychoactive (makes you feel “high”) and non-psychoactive.

Non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is a critical non-psychotropic phytocannabinoid.
  • Cannabichromene (CBC)
  • Cannabidiolic acid synthase (CBDA)
  • Cannabigerol (CBG)
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
    Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
If you wish to read a very comprehensive review about Cannabidiol, check the WHO (World Health Organisation) dossier. 

Psychoactive phytocannabinoids:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant.
  • Cannabinol (CBN) is a sub-product of THC degradation. 



Endo means “inside us”.

Almost every single mammal produces its own endocannabinoids, and humans aren’t an exception. Our bodies naturally create them. These molecules join and interact with the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) found across our entire body. We mainly produce two types of endocannabinoids, this dynamic duo names are: 

Anandamide (comes from the Sanskrit word “ananda”  which means internal bliss). It’s a great name for it as creates balance and “happiness” within our nervous system.

2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) 

The endocannabinoids and cannabinoids receptors, together, form the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its duties are maintaining the balance, keep the peace and being the mastermind of a smoothly operating body under everyday challenges. We could say that it is like a dimmer regulating several functions in our nervous and immune system.




Synthetic Cannabinoids


Synthetic cannabinoids, as you can expect by its name, are artificially human-made in laboratories. Some examples are:

  • Arvisol®
  • Zynerba®
  • Dronabinol (MARINOL®)
  • Nabilone (CESAMET®)
  • JHW-018 y JHW-073 (Spice) These drugs have never been created for human consumption. They are dangerous and only developed as research tools.



We can classify all phytocannabinoids as cannabinoids, but it doesn’t work the other way around. 

Remember that cannabinoids are a much larger group which encompasses all known compounds that interact with our ECS.


  • Natural: Phyto/endocannabinoids.
  • Synthetic.

Cannabis is coming back from the shadows and experiencing a renaissance. Science is taking giant leaps on the many functions of cannabinoids and their interactions with our ECS. 


What are your thoughts? Let us know on the comment section below.

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