Cannabis is a really massive source of chemical compounds. This plant, among all those described by botanists, is the greatest producer of terpenes, flavonoids, and an extensive list of compounds including nitrogen compounds, alkaloids, and—of course—a series of unique compounds that can only be found in this species: cannabinoids. So far, at least 105 cannabinoids have been identified and, considering other kinds of compounds, the number of distinct chemical compounds in a single cannabis flower adds up to more than 500. Due to stigma and prohibition, research had been halted for many years until anandamide, a cannabinoid present in animal species, was discovered by the early 1990s. Time after that, scientists found out that absolutely every animal species—excepting some insects—has an endocannabinoid system, opening up a whole new world in the field of modern medicine.
In this regard, there was a person who managed to carry out scientific studies that would represent a huge milestone for research and forever shape the history of cannabis and its medical applications: Professor Raphael Mechoulam. This researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem isolated cannabidiol (CBD) in 1964 and soon after that discovered tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), representing the two major active compounds in the cannabis plant.
THC and CBD: What’s the Difference?
The first difference is that THC is a psychoactive compound, while CBD isn’t. What makes THC psychoactive and other compounds not psychoactive is that fewer oxygen bonds are present in a THC molecule, as compared with other cannabinoids. Regarding their chemical structure, all cannabinoids are quite similar; what matters is the distribution of bonds within each molecule, which makes some cannabinoids more psychoactive than others. As they introduce regulations that govern only THC and not the whole plant, coupled with the growing scientific evidence of the medical potential of CBD, many countries are now allowing the sale of products containing these compounds.
Over the last few years, there has been an exponential increase in the use and sale of extracts, food, beverages, and infused drinks containing isolated CBD or a highly concentrated natural extract of said cannabinoid and a THC concentration that does not exceed a certain amount varying from 0.2 to 0.6%, depending on each country.
Working Together in Synergy: The Other Compounds
Cannabinoids still pose a challenge to researchers because they do not always share the same action mechanism. It is known for a fact that, when combined, the use of these compounds is better tolerated than when used separately. Scientists study the medical applications of cannabinoids and their therapeutic effects to treat several diseases. However, since cannabis remains illegal in some countries, patients often end up self-medicating. Although THC and CBD are the most frequently mentioned compounds (and also the two most researched cannabinoids), there is a rising interest in those non-cannabinoid compounds present in the cannabis plant such as terpenes and flavonoids.