As regulations have opened up (yet still somewhat impaired) cannabis research, scientists continue to discover new cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds secreted in the plant’s resin that interact with our bodies’ endocannabinoid systems. By activating cannabinoid receptors in our nervous systems, immune systems, and elsewhere, they’re able to trigger different sensations — which can include everything from relieving medical symptoms including anxiety, pain, and epilepsy (to name just a few), to promoting psychoactive effects of euphoria.
At the moment, there’s a great deal of debate about the precise number of cannabinoids. Modern labs are still unable to provide a full cannabinoid compound “fingerprint,” due to the limitations of current technology, the long amount of time it would take to do the analysis, and the exorbitant cost.
Reports cite a wide variety of numbers, from 60 to “more than 100,” to 140-plus. While that last number could be proven true in the future, as scientists believe many more cannabinoids remain to be discovered, it’s still quite a bit higher than the number of cannabinoids that have definitively been confirmed to date.
From what we have found reviewing the most recent research, it is still difficult to lock on to one number. However, two numbers are most commonly cited in reference to verified, isolated cannabinoids: 111 and 113 — both of which include seven new compounds recently discovered by cannabis lab researchers at the University of Mississippi in March 2019.
However, while we might know they exist, we’re still relatively ignorant about what they do and how we might be able to use them. With a few notable exceptions, most plant cannabinoids have been found only in trace amounts. And while many exhibit their own distinct properties, the effects of many are still unknown and require further research.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the most well known and thoroughly researched cannabinoids. Dr. Roger Adams and his team at the University of Illinois were the first to discover CBD in 1940, while THC was discovered at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, in 1964 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, with colleagues Dr. Yehiel Gaoni and Dr. Haviv Edery. Mechoulam, who was the first to map the chemical structure of both compounds, is sometimes referred to as “the godfather of cannabis research.”
Interestingly, the cannabis plant doesn’t actually make CBD and THC. Two cannabinoid acids — THCA and CBDA, the most abundant cannabinoids in the cannabis plant — have to be activated by heat through a process called decarboxylation to produce these two compounds craved by consumers for their various effects, whether that is to induce psychoactivity or alleviate various ailments.
Including CBDA and THCA, the cannabis plant produces eight major cannabinoid acids, with the first four being the most prevalent, and the ‘V’ compounds having somewhat shorter chemical structures:
|CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)||CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)|
|CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)||THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)|
|CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)||CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)|
|CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)||THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)|
After decarboxylation and heat exposure, cannabinoid acids lose the “A” element, and become the following neutral compounds, some of which are the most common compounds in cannabis:
|CBD (Cannabidiol)||CBC (Cannabichromene)|
|CBG (Cannabigerol)||THC (delta-9–tetrahydrocannabinol)|
|CBCV (Cannabichromevarin)||CBDV (Cannabidivarin)|
|CBGV (Cannabigerivarin)||THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin)|
Most cannabinoids fall into specific classes, which are listed in the tables below. Cannabinoids in the same classes often share certain characteristics — for example, both CBD and CBDV have been shown to be useful in the treatment of seizures. In other cases, cannabinoids from different classes can have therapeutic effects, like CBC and CBG, which are both potent antifungal agents.
With a few notable exceptions like THC, the majority of cannabinoids do not have any psychoactive properties — and even the ones that do, like CBN or THCV, tend to be much less potent, and only active at high levels. However, since most cannabinoids have not been studied to any significant extent, scientists still aren’t certain what many of them can actually do.
|Cannabidiol (CBD)||Cannabidiol monomethylether (CBDM)|
|Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA)||Cannabidiorcol (CBD-C1)|
|Cannabidivarin (CBDV)||Cannabidivarinic acid (CBDVA)|
|Cannabichromene (CBC)||Cannabichromenic acid (CBCA)|
|Cannabichromevarin (CBCV)||Cannabichromevarinic acid (CBCVA)|
|Cannabicyclol (CBL)||Cannabicyclolic acid (CBLA)|
|Cannabielsoic acid B (CBEA-B)||Cannabielsoin (CBE)|
|Cannabielsoin acid A (CBEA-A)|
|Cannabigerol (CBG)||Cannabigerol monomethylether (CBGM)|
|Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA)||Cannabigerolic acid monomethylether (CBGAM)|
|Cannabigerovarin (CBGV)||Cannabigerovarinic acid (CBGVA)|
|Cannabinodiols & Cannabinols|
|Cannabinodiol (CBND)||Cannabinodivarin (CBVD)|
|Cannabinol (CBN)||Cannabinol methylether (CBNM)|
|Cannabinol-C2 (CBN-C2)||Cannabinol-C4 (CBN-C4)|
|Cannabinolic acid (CBNA)||Cannabiorcool (CBN-C1)||Cannabivarin (CBV)|
|Cannabitriol (CBT)||Cannabitriolvarin (CBTV)|
|Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC)||Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (Δ8-THCA)|
|Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)||Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-C4 (THC-C4)|
|Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid A (THCA-A)||Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid B (THCA-B)|
|Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid-C4 (THCA-C4)||Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabiorcol (THC-C1)|
|Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabiorcolic acid (THCA-C1)||Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)||Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabivarinic acid (THCVA)|
There are also a handful of cannabinoids that have yet to be classified. Many of these were only recently discovered, and scientists have only the barest knowledge of their attributes of effects. It’s likely to be some time before any research progress is made on this front, as there’s already a great deal of work to be done.
|Cannabichromanon (CBCF)||Cannabifuran (CBF)|
|Cannbicitran (CBT)||Dehydrocannabifuran (DCBF)|
|Delta-9-cis-tetrahydrocannabinol (cis-THC)||OH-iso-HHCV||Tryhydroxy-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (triOH-THC)|
There’s still no official list of all confirmed cannabinoids, but there’s hope that the looming federal legalization of cannabis might finally open the doors to large, publicly-funded research projects that could deliver a consensus on how many cannabinoids exist. Until then, “more than 110” might be the best available estimate.