Cannabinoids are the chief active ingredients that deliver the therapeutic effects of cannabis. No other plant in the world produces cannabinoids, as far as we know.
Because a large range of synthetic compounds have been developed over the years, the plant-derived cannabinoids are now often termed phytocannabinoids.
The biological activities attributed to cannabis have mainly been linked to the phytocannabinoids delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). However, other minor cannabinoids present in herbal cannabis are thought to be involved in subtle modulation or enhancement of medicinal effects. This effect may be the result of their independent biological activity, or through synergy with the major cannabinoids THC and CBD.
THC is the most well-known cannabinoid. THC is also responsible for many of the medicinal effects of cannabis. This includes, among others, reduction of nausea, vomiting, pain and muscle spasms, and improvement of sleep and appetite.
CBD is another major cannabinoid that receives significant scientific attention. It has medicinal effects, but does not induce a psychotropic state (i.e. its use does not result in feelings of intoxication). On the contrary, CBD actually reduces some of the unwanted effects caused by higher doses of THC. Specifically, co-administration of CBD with THC has been shown to reduce the occurrence or intensity of typical side effects of THC, including heightened euphoria (feeling high), anxiety, and short term memory loss. Moreover, studies indicate that CBD could be effective in easing the symptoms of various difficult-to-control conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorder, and antibiotic-resistant infections.
Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give cannabis varieties their distinctive smells and taste.
To date more than 120 different terpenes have been identified in cannabis. Unlike cannabinoids, all major terpenes present in cannabis (e.g. myrcene, alpha-pinene, and beta-caryophyllene) can be found abundantly in nature.
These terpenes are suspected to be involved in different interactions with cannabinoids. They may work synergistically with cannabinoids, to modify or enhance their therapeutic effects in specific ways. Although research on the potential interactions between terpenes and cannabinoids is still in its infancy, terpenes have been shown to produce their own pharmacological effects: anti-inflammatory (myrcene), neuroprotective (myrcene) and analgesic (beta-caryophyllene).
Due to the variety of cannabis terpenes, there are many different combinations in which they can be present in a cannabis plant. Each distinct type (variety, strain) of cannabis has its own unique composition of cannabinoids and terpenes.