The Basics of Cannabis: Cannabis Chemistry

New to cannabis? Read on to learn about some of the basics when it comes to cannabis chemistry.

Suppose you read our previous article, The Basics Of Cannabis: Product Types. In that case, you already have a pretty good understanding of the products out there in the industry. 

With such a vast amount of options to choose from, it’s easy to lose sight of one of the most important factors when buying cannabis products – its chemical makeup.

So here we are, a miniature crash course of some introductory cannabis chemistry that will help you better understand what you are consuming and help you make a more informed decision when purchasing these products.


Found in cannabis and other plants, cannabinoids are a range of naturally occurring chemical compounds that interact with specific chemical receptors in the brain and nervous system. These receptors make up the endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate essential functions such as appetite, pain, mood, and memory. As such, the amounts and combinations of cannabinoids found in different strains of cannabis are what create physical and emotional effects felt from using various cannabis products.

Testing cannabis products and determining a cannabinoid profile allows patients and doctors to predict the potential effects of different products more accurately. This enables patients to select a strain or product to address their particular needs or treat specific symptoms.

The cannabinoids that we most often see here at the lab are:

THC (Delta-9-THC) – Often the most known compound in cannabis due to its intoxicating effects and is the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. The possible medical benefits of THC can range from improving symptoms of ADHD to reducing the presence of cancer. 

CBD – Often obtained from Hemp, this cannabinoid is very similar to THC for medical benefits but with one big difference. This cannabinoid is non-intoxicating. CBD has been used in many studies as a natural alternative to alleviating various cancer symptoms and reducing anxiety, nausea, and much more. 

CBGA/CBG: Known as the “mother of all cannabinoids,” it is the precursor to all other cannabinoids. Its potential medical benefits include anti-inflammatoryanti-oxidantimmunosuppressive, and anti-tumor. This cannabinoid is psychotropic, and it will ultimately not provide an intoxicating effect. However, users have reported that high levels of CBG have improved happiness and overall excitement. 

CBN: Through excessive heat, light, or air THCA is converted into CBN. CBN is known to be a very soothing cannabinoid, especially when paired with THC. Other potential medical benefits include appetite stimulantspain reduction, and anti-tumor.

CBC: Though it is considered a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, it has demonstrated powerful pain-reduction effects. Other potential medical benefits include anti-depressantanti-epileptic, and anti-microbial. CBC has also been reported to reduce stress levels and general help with mood support. 

Click here for a more in-depth list of other cannabinoids that we currently know about and their potential benefits.


Another class of compounds found naturally in cannabis plants are terpenes. These compounds are partially responsible for creating the smell and taste of cannabis. Still, they have also been noted to interact synergistically with cannabinoids to have their own health benefits and treatment applications. The combination of physical and mental effects that result from the interplay between cannabinoids and terpenes is known as the “entourage effect.”

Looking at a terpene panel and the cannabinoid profile provides a more unambiguous indication of the potential effects of using a particular cannabis product.

Below is a list of the most common terpenes that we see at the lab: 

Caryophyllene: Often found in black pepper and cinnamon, this terpene is known to have a spicy/peppery taste. Some of the potential benefits include anti-cancer treatment, pain reduction, and help with anxiety/depression.

Limonene: Often found in citrus rinds, it is known to have a citrus flavor. Some potential benefits include inflammation reductioncan reduce anxiety, and help with sleep deprivation.

Myrcene: This terpene is often found in hops and thyme. This terpene has a musky and somewhat earthy flavor. Some potential benefits include help with sleep deprivationarthritis, and spasms

Linalool: Often found in lavender, it has a floral and sweet taste. Some potential benefits include assisting with anxiety/depression, inducing a calming effect, and being an active anti-inflammatory.

Pinene: Found in rosemary and pine needles, this terpene has a pine taste to it. Pinene is also the most common terpene found in nature. Potential benefits include anti-depressionanti-inflammatory, help in treating pain.

For a more in-depth list of other terpenes that we currently know about and their potential benefits, click here.

Product Selection

Due to physiological differences from person to person, the varying compositions of cannabinoids and terpenes found in different cannabis products may uniquely affect each individual. When selecting a product, be sure to inquire about the expected effects and discuss what symptoms you’re attempting to treat with your provider. Look at the potency profile that should be present on the label and note how the listed cannabinoids may affect you when using a controlled dose.

Because the science surrounding cannabis is still new, there is no sure-fire way to predict how a product will affect you before trying it yourself. You’ll need to adjust the dosage and stay aware of which combination of cannabinoids and terpenes works best for you when using a given method of consumption.

Now that you know about cannabinoids & terpenes, and how to select the product right for you, continue reading our other free resources to better understand the products you are consuming.

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