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CBD, CBC, THC, CBG, CBS, ABC! What does it all mean? Those last couple may have been jokes, but cannabinoids are seriously valuable commodities in the world today.

The rise in the hemp and cannabis industries has accelerated the research into cannabinoids, the chemical compounds extracted from the acids in cannabis. Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’ve likely heard of one such cannabinoid, known as cannabidiol (or CBD). As a non-intoxicating alternative to the pain relief offered by the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana, CBD’s popularity has soared in recent years.

But the cannabis plant generates many different acids from which over 100 known cannabinoids can be extracted. Each one may prove to have unique benefits to the human body, or at least contribute to the effectiveness of others. Extensive research remains to be done, but early results both in test laboratories and among early-adopting consumers have been exciting.

To explore some of the better-known cannabinoids, you should first understand how the human body processes them.

The Endocannabinoid System

If, like me, you’re not a biology major then don’t worry. It’s actually pretty simple.

The human body likes to keep things balanced in order to stay healthy and survive. Scientists call this balance homeostasis. The body has different ways of maintaining this balance, and in the early 1990’s, researchers identified one called the endocannabinoid system.

Your brain, nervous system, and other organs have tiny locks in them, called receptors, that can be activated by keys such as the cannabinoids extracted from cannabis. Introduce the right key to the right lock, and your body experiences the benefits. Whether you’re looking for pain relief, better sleep, increased immunity, or any number of health hacks, researchers are now trying to identify the cannabinoid keys you’re looking for.

The two primary known locks, known as endocannabinoid receptors, are called CB1 and CB2. Each can be found throughout the body, but CB1 and CB2 are most common in the brain and immune system respectively.

Other receptors affecting pain in the body are the vallinoid receptor 1 (TRPV1) and transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1).

Simply put, science has pinpointed many of the spots in our brain and nervous system at which we feel pain, anxiety, and many other discomforts.

A Small Sample

The cannabis plant produces various acids, which, when decarboxylated (heated and/or cured over time) produce the cannabinoids that activate our bodies’ receptors. Scientists study many of these for their individual benefits, as well as how they interact with one another to create the so-called “entourage effect.”

The cannabinoid THC produces the “high” associated with marijuana, and its use in medicine is therefore still somewhat controversial, but several non-intoxicating compounds available in hemp are earning a large share of research.


Again, you’re probably already familiar with CBD. Its surging popularity drives a large share of the reborn industrial hemp market in the United States. CBD is currently available in a variety of applications.

Owing to its relatively recent introduction to the marketplace, CBD’s benefits have been shown in a number of independent studies but it’s still not recommended by the FDA. Only one drug containing CBD is approved in the United States, and it is intended for severe epilepsy. More on that later.

CBD is perhaps best known among its users for therapeutic benefits, pain relief chief among them. Optimism around reducing opioid addiction is fueling further research into this. Other studies have shown CBD to be effective at reducing cancer growth, acne, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, and anxiety.


A “minor” cannabinoid, CBG (cannabigerol) has a concentration of about 1% or less in most cannabis strains. This is in contrast with CBD and THC which show up in 5-25% concentrations depending on what the grower is after.

Some breeders are likewise attempting to manipulate their strains to produce more CBG. This could be a result of CBG’s particularly impressive results in fighting cancer cells. Other notable uses for CBG could be in fighting glaucoma, and acting as an antibacterial agent against MRSA.

CBG has also been shown effective at increasing dopamine, useful for regulating sleep, mood, and appetite.


CBC (cannabichrome) is unique in that it does not work well with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, but binds to other receptors with a terrific effect. The body produces a natural endocannabinoid called anandamide, and CBC has been shown to stimulate its production, and help it stay longer in the bloodstream. This makes it very attractive as a potential cancer inhibitor.

This work with anandamide has the added benefit of improving the effectiveness of other cannabinoids.

CBC has also been studied for its effects on Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Cannabis to the Rescue?

It bears repeating that the acids produced by cannabis and the oils we get from them are still being tested. The US Federal Drug Administration is loath to make quick decision on anything, and cannabinoids are no exception. Even CBD, now widely available in the US and many parts of the world, has not gotten a unanimous thumbs up.

From the FDA website:

The FDA has approved only one CBD product, a prescription drug product to treat two rare, severe forms of epilepsy.
• It is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement.
• The FDA has seen only limited data about CBD safety and these data point to real risks that need to be considered before taking CBD for any reason.
• Some CBD products are being marketed with unproven medical claims and are of unknown quality.
• The FDA will continue to update the public as it learns more about CBD.

Even as pure CBD and other cannabinoids are tested, the FDA is rightly keeping an eye on the companies that market the sale of CBD products, some of which have been found to contain less-than-healthy byproducts of their cultivation. Expect this fight to continue until more evolved regulations are in place.

In the meantime, keep an eye on research into these promising products. The FDA is a great place to start, since they will be blunt about what is legal and proven safe. But new studies are being done all the time, and only a consultation with your trusted medical doctor can determine the best thing for you.

This is for informational use only and is not intended to serve as medical advice in any way. All decisions relating to your diet or health care should be made only after consulting with a qualified medical doctor.