What are Cannabinoids?

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Written by | March 6th, 2022

When it comes to talking about hemp, cannabis, and human health, there are numerous terms used within the research community and industry that may not be familiar to the consumer – and one of them is the word “cannabinoid.” While CBD and THC are recognizable to most people as active components of the cannabis plant, they may not know that they are two of 100+ phytocannabinoids found in the plant’s flowers. There are also cannabinoids in the human body, called endo or endogenous cannabinoids.   

In this post, we’ll define what cannabinoids are; describe the difference between endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids; as well as explain how cannabinoids relate to the Entourage Effect. 

What Are Cannabinoids?

 By definition, cannabinoids are: 1) “any naturally occurring, biologically active, chemical constituents of hemp and cannabis; 2) any of several substances (such as anandamide) naturally produced within the body; a substance that is synthetically produced to mimic the effects of natural cannabinoids.”   

 Types of Cannabinoids  

 Endogenous Cannabinoids (aka Endocannabinoids) 

Endogenous cannabinoids are chemical compounds produced in the body and are a key component of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). Anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol are two endocannabinoids that attach to the ECS’ CB1 and CB2 receptors. Other endocannabinoids include Arachidonyl glyceryl ether and O-arachidonoyl-ethanolamine. When endocannabinoids bind to receptors, the result is a physical response in the brain or body to reestablish balance or homeostasis, such as a decrease in ocular pressure, a decrease in inflammation, or a lowering of body temperature.


Phytocannabinoids are plant-derived cannabinoids produced by the hemp and cannabis plants that mimic endocannabinoids.  Cannabinoids are produced by the hemp or cannabis plant’s trichomes. Trichomes are hair-like appendages on the flowers’ surface that act defensively against insects and animals because of the bitter smell and taste their components impart. The plant begins to develop trichomes when flowers begin to form. The trichomes not only produce cannabinoids, but also terpenes.

Phytocannabinoids are not exclusively produced by hemp and cannabis; Echinacea, Cacao, Kava and sunflowers are some of the many plants that produce them as well.

A Short List of Known Cannabinoids

CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Delta-nine-tetrahydrocannabinol) are the two best-known and most recognized of the 100+ cannabinoids produced by the hemp and cannabis plants. That said, other cannabinoids are gaining notice from the scientific and consumer communities for their purported health benefits. They include:  

  • CBDA: Cannabidiolic Acid 
  • CBDV: Cannabidivarin 
  • CBG: Cannabigerol 
  • CBN: Cannabinol  
  • CBC: Cannabichromene  
  • CBCA: Cannabichromenic Acid 
  • THCV: Delta-nine-tetrahydrocannabivarin

More product producers are pairing CBD or THC with some of the minor cannabinoids to improve the efficacy of the product and the way they interact with the ECS.

Benefits of Cannabinoids  

Currently, there is a great interest in the scientific community in the potential medical use of the cannabinoid, CBD. Productive pharmacological research on CBD occurred in the 1970s and gained traction with the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System. Multiple preclinical and clinical studies led to FDA approval of CBD-based Epidiolex® in 2018, used for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) or Dravet syndrome (DS) in patients 2 years of age and older.

CBD and many other cannabinoids are medically promising substances that continue to grow in popularity around the world. With increasing public and patient interest in the use of cannabinoids for health concerns such as anxiety, stress, inflammation, pain, and sleep, more research is necessary to better understand cannabinoids’ potential efficacy and safety profiles.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are manmade chemicals in powder form that are designed to replicate the effects of cannabis. They are usually mixed with solvents, then sprayed onto other plant material. These chemicals, known as Spice or K2, are not a true synthetic form of cannabis and actually produce a number of negative side effects that are considerably different from those of cannabis. The side effects can include vomiting, hallucinations, agitation, and rapid heart rate.

How Cannabinoids Contribute to The Entourage Effect  

The Entourage Effect is a term that describes the way in which cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids in a cannabis plant interact with each other and the human body to be more effective than any one of those chemical components acting alone, creating a synergistic effect. Terpenes are substances often recognized for their pungent, sometimes fruity aroma; they represent the aromatic and fragrant compounds associated with plants that deter insects and animals from eating them

The Entourage Effect helps maximize the therapeutic effects of a cannabinoid such as CBD by improving efficacy and tolerability. The Entourage Effect is a term that communicates that when it comes to hemp and cannabis, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Entourage Effect is a reason that a product developer would choose Broad Spectrum CBD over isolate, as Broad Spectrum can offer a wider array of cannabinoids and terpenes than 99% pure CBD isolate does.  

 It’s been four years since the Farm Bill legalized the use of hemp, and in that time, the number of products featuring cannabinoids has grown remarkably. Cannabinoids can be found in a variety of different formats, including water-soluble which allows for them to be integrated into beverages, baked goods, confections, topicals and personal care products. If you are a product developer looking to enter the infused product space and need help coming up with the right cannabinoid formulation to meet your consumers’ needs, the team at SōRSE has the knowledge and experience to help you get your product to market efficiently. Come to the SōRSE – book an exploratory call today!