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What Are Cannabinoids?

While most people have heard of THC and CBD, fewer of them would likely be able to identify them as cannabinoids. This terminology may not be familiar to the average consumer of THC or CBD supplements, but understanding what cannabinoids are is the first step in discovering just how many more of them may be available to you in the coming years.

Read on to discover more about the vast world of cannabinoids and what you can expect to see coming soon to a vape, an edible, or a pre-roll near you.

A Guide to Cannabinoids and How They Work

The cannabis plant—which is the source plant of both hemp and marijuana—boasts hundreds of different cannabinoids in its makeup. Cannabinoids are chemicals that occur naturally in the plant, and the most commonly known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) and cannabidiol (or CBD).

A cannabinoid on its own is just an ingredient in the plant, you might say. And the plant is hardly extraordinary in any way in its appearance: it is green and leafy like so many others. However, when we discovered how that chemical would interact with our own bodies, the real magic of cannabinoids and the cannabis plant was unlocked.

The Endocannabinoid System

Our bodies have an endocannabinoid system that regulates just about everything we do, though people are not as familiar with this system as they are with the nervous system, for example.

Imagine a network of signals and receptors constantly “pinging” each other, and that is precisely what you have in your body. The endocannabinoid system is a network where signals and receptors communicate with each other to regulate bodily processes and reactions.

Endocannabinoids are molecules that our own bodies produce naturally, and they are similar in molecular structure to the cannabinoids produced by cannabis plants. Now, you are probably starting to see why bringing them together creates a powerful reaction.

The endocannabinoid system has two specific types of receptors, and you will often hear these mentioned in terms of how cannabinoids work in our bodies. The CB1 receptors are found in our brains and are a part of regulating everything from body temperature to hunger.

CB2 receptors are mainly found in tissues and are critical to our immune responses. The more we learn about the endocannabinoid system, the better we understand how cannabinoids impact it and how we can use them in ways beneficial to our health in addition to recreational use.

Cannabinoids and Their Effects

Once we introduce cannabinoids from the cannabis plant into our bodies, a variety of responses can be expected within our endocannabinoid system. And this is more than just the high we commonly associate with THC.

Cannabinoids produce a wide variety of responses in our bodies, and the more we learn about them, the more we see cannabinoids used to treat specific health conditions.

THC and CBD products are widely available in the consumer market now, especially as THC becomes legal in more places. Chances are you may also start to see products using some of the other cannabinoids listed below.


The primary psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is found in large amounts in the cannabis plant and is easy to extract, hence its popularity and widespread availability. Found in the resin and buds of the female cannabis plant, THC interacts with brain receptors that control pleasure and is associated with a relaxing and euphoric high.

THC is well known for recreational use but has also been prized for millennia for its healing properties. Going back to ancient times, THC has been used to fight everything from nausea to inflammation. Today, medical marijuana is legal in many places, and studies are continuing to determine how THC might help patients battling a variety of health conditions.

THCa and its Conversion to THC

While THC and CBD are the most well-known cannabinoids, there are many others, including THCa. THCa stands for Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid, and it is the acidic precursor to THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound commonly associated with the “high” from cannabis. THCa itself is not psychoactive, but it plays a crucial role in the overall cannabis experience.

THCa to THC Conversion:

THCa is typically found in raw, unprocessed cannabis plants. It is only when cannabis is heated through processes like smoking, vaporization, or decarboxylation (applying heat) that THCa undergoes a chemical transformation and becomes THC. This process is known as decarboxylation.

The chemical formula for THCa and THC is similar, with a slight difference in their molecular structure. THCa contains a carboxylic acid group (hence the “A” in its name), while THC lacks this group. This carboxylic acid group is responsible for the non-psychoactive nature of THCa.

The conversion of THCa to THC involves the removal of this carboxylic acid group through the application of heat. Once the carboxylic acid group is removed, THCa becomes psychoactive THC, which binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain, producing the euphoric and intoxicating effects commonly associated with cannabis consumption.

Importance of THCa:

THCa is not just a precursor to THC; it also offers potential therapeutic benefits. Some research suggests that THCa may have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antiemetic (anti-nausea) properties, even in its non-psychoactive form. This has led to interest in THCa as a possible therapeutic compound, particularly for conditions where THC’s psychoactivity may not be desirable.

As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, we may see more products that highlight THCa’s potential benefits, both on its own and in combination with other cannabinoids. Keep an eye out for THCa-rich products as the understanding of cannabinoids and their potential grows.



Behind THC, cannabidiol or CBD, is the next best-known cannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant. CBD and THC are the same when it comes to their molecular formula. Each of these cannabinoids has 21 carbon atoms, 31 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms.

However, the difference in the way these atoms are arranged makes a significant difference in terms of how these cannabinoids work in our endocannabinoid systems. Namely, THC will get you high, and CBD (on its own) will not. CBD does not contain psychoactive properties.

Just because it will not produce a high does not mean we have dismissed CBD. In fact, the opposite is true. CBD has become wildly popular for its number of therapeutic uses, including everything from improving sleep to relieving pain.


Cannabigerol, or CBG, is what is known as a starting compound in the cannabis plant. It is only available in limited amounts once the plant is ripe, and most of it at that point has been converted to other cannabinoids.

However, if CBG is extracted from young plants, it may boast similar benefits to CBD. CBG is not psychoactive and will not produce a high, but like CBD, it may be useful in treating pain as well as inflammation. In fact, you may see CBG paired with CBD in some supplements since they are complementary in the health benefits they provide.

Further studies are needed to better understand the benefits and effectiveness of CBG, and we will likely have more widespread use of CBG in the health and wellness space going forward.


Cannabichromene, or CBC, is another one of the non-psychoactive cannabinoids with promising healing and therapeutic properties. It activates CB2 receptors in our endocannabinoid system and may provide pain relief and other benefits.

CBC and other cannabinoids are especially promising as anti-inflammatory tools in that they do not come with the negative side effects of over-the-counter NSAIDs that are so often used to manage common causes of pain and inflammation.


Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabivarin, or THCV, is a cannabinoid similar to THC—which is obvious from the name—and has also become known by the nickname diet weed.

THCV seems to reduce appetites in many people, which lands it squarely on the opposite pole in terms of what we traditionally think about THC. THC is often associated with the munchies or an increased appetite, which may be appealing for some but a drawback for others.

There is also some early evidence pointing to THCV as effective in managing pain and inflammation and used as a treatment for those with epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease, but these studies have been extremely limited, and more research is needed to determine how this cannabinoid affects our bodies.


Cannabinol or CBN might be described as CBD’s slightly less popular cousin. Whereas CBD products are widely available in the health and wellness markets, CBN products are more limited.

What we have seen thus far with CBN is that it may be especially effective as a sleep aid or for use in pain management.  One important distinction between CBD and CBN is that the latter can produce some psychoactive effects in larger quantities (though still milder than what you might experience with THC).

Are Cannabinoids Legal?

Are Cannabinoids Legal?

The legal status of cannabinoids is an evolving issue, and you can expect things will continue to change in the future. The pivotal moment for cannabinoids and the law was, by all accounts, in 2018 when the Farm Bill was passed.

This bill made it legal for manufacturers to sell products containing a dry weight of .3% or less of Delta 9 THC. The cannabinoids without psychoactive properties, such as CBD, are legal and widely available.

Where things get tricky is the fact that so many products contain numerous cannabinoids because they often work so well together. It is always best to check your own state laws before purchasing consumer cannabis products, and you should also buy only from reputable brands that stand behind high-quality cannabis.

Potency for All Your Cannabis Needs

At Potency our expert team is constantly at work to find the best cannabis products available in Massachusetts, working with growers who share our commitment to quality. We carry a wide variety of cannabis products boasting a number of popular cannabinoid combos, like THC and CBD.

At our Pittsfield dispensary, you can choose from vapes, pre-rolls, flower, edibles, and more. We would love to help you find the cannabis that best fits your lifestyle and taste buds, and we are always adding new products we think our customers will enjoy. Stop by and see us to learn more about our selection, or drop us a line with any questions.


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