THC, CBD, CBG: An Introduction to the World of Cannabinoids

by Mila Grün04.07.2023Knowledge
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Cannabis plants contain over 700 different chemical substances, known as phytochemicals, which are formed in the small sticky trichome heads found on the plant's flowers. These substances include terpenes, thiols, thiolates, esters, flavonoids, and cannabinoids. Among these, cannabinoids like THC and CBD are perhaps the most well-known chemical compounds.

What are cannabinoids?

For a general understanding, cannabinoids can be divided into two groups: phytocannabinoids, which are produced by the cannabis plant, and endocannabinoids, which are produced by the human body. These are chemical compounds that fulfill important functions for both the plant and the body. For example, they serve as protection and defense mechanisms for the plant.

Cannabis produces over 100 different cannabinoids, but in the form of carboxylic acids such as THCA and CBDA. When these acids are heated, they transform into their chemically neutral and well-known forms, THC and CBD. It is only in this neutral form that they are effective in the human body. This conversion process is called decarboxylation. If cannabis is not decarboxylated before or during consumption, particularly THC will not have a psychoactive effect.

Effects on the human body

Phytocannabinoids have a significant impact on the human body because it possesses docking sites, called receptors, to which they bind. These receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which permeates the entire body like a network. The ECS supports functions such as memory, digestion, motor skills, immune responses, appetite, pain perception, blood pressure, bone growth, and the protection of nerve tissue.

The endocannabinoid system

The most important receptors in the ECS are the CB1 and CB2 receptors. They are distributed throughout the central nervous and immune systems, as well as in various tissues, including the brain, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive organs, urinary tract, spleen, and cardiovascular system. Endocannabinoids, which the body produces as needed, bind to these receptors and regulate the smooth functioning of the human nervous system. They help to correct certain imbalances caused by diseases or injuries and reduce pain.

Not only do endocannabinoids dock to the receptors, but phytocannabinoids also interact with the ECS. Through this interaction, they have both medical and psychoactive effects on humans. Among the 100+ cannabinoids produced by cannabis, only a few are formed in large enough quantities for us to utilize.

The most important and well-known cannabinoids are:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Cannabigerol (CBG)
  • Cannabichromene (CBC)

The fifth known cannabinoid, cannabinol (CBN), is not produced by the plant itself but is formed through the oxidation of THC when it breaks down.


Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the most popular cannabinoid among recreational users and one of the most important cannabinoids in medicine. THC is the only psychoactive compound, although it does not have psychoactive effects in its original acidic form but becomes psychoactive only after decarboxylation. This conversion process occurs automatically through the heating of the substance during vaporization, smoking, or cooking.

How does THC work?

But THC has even more valuable effects than just its psychoactive properties. It has anti-inflammatory, appetite-stimulating, and pain-relieving properties. Additionally, it positively affects cell preservation, inhibits the formation of cancer cells, and reduces nausea, intraocular pressure, spastic paralysis, and muscle tension. THC interacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors.

The psychoactive effect is highly desired by recreational users. It makes the consumer feel high or stoned, depending on the THC content in the strain and the presence of other substances. The psychoactivity can be enhanced or diminished by additional phytochemicals, known as the entourage effect. In medicine, it is important to avoid this psychoactive effect in patients. Some people may experience nausea from highly concentrated THC-rich strains.

To counteract nausea, psychoactivity, and other side effects such as increased heart rate and anxiety, medical strains are often bred with a high concentration of CBD or combined with pharmaceutical products. CBD helps to mitigate the negative side effects and can enhance the positive effects.


Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is the most common cannabinoid produced by industrial hemp or fiber hemp and is also essential in cannabis medicine. CBDA is converted to CBD through decarboxylation. The major advantage of this compound, aside from its positive medical effects, is that it does not have psychoactive properties and interacts with a much broader range of receptors than just the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Therefore, this phytocannabinoid has a wide range of effects.

CBD has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects for numerous diseases and symptoms. Studies have shown that cannabidiol inhibits the growth of certain tumor cells while protecting healthy cells. It also has antispasmodic and anxiolytic properties, promoting relaxation and mood enhancement. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, CBD is also used in many skincare products applied topically. These products have shown promising effects on damaged skin, especially for acne treatment.

CBD medications have minimal side effects and are non-addictive.


Cannabigerol (CBG) is the third most abundant cannabinoid produced by the cannabis plant, following THC and CBD. It is non-psychoactive and has the unique property of primarily interacting with receptors that are not part of the ECS. CBG was not extensively researched until recently, but research interest in this cannabinoid is growing. An Italian study on mice found that CBG is highly effective in treating chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, which affect a large number of people. Additionally, CBG exhibits extremely potent antibacterial effects against pathogens, suggesting its potential use as an antiseptic and antibiotic. It has also shown to be helpful in treating tumors, particularly certain forms of prostate and oral cavity cancer.


  • Michael Backes, Cannabis as Medicine (October 2021), 2nd edition, Kopp Verlag;
  • Cannabibliothek.de

Written by Mila Grün

Hello and High, my name is Mila Grün and I am the editor-in-chief of Cannabibliothek. My work and passion lies in writing serious and scientifically sound texts about the topic of cannabis. Together with my team, I have been fighting against the current stigmatization and for solid education for years. So that the cannabis plant regains the status it deserves.


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