How Cannabinoids Benefit the Human Body: An Ultimate Guide
Cannabinoids like CBD are what makes hemp tick. CBD users are saying that the compound has helped them feel better in all sorts of ways!
But how do cannabinoids actually work? And what makes them so beneficial to the human body?
We’ll be covering all of it in our ultimate guide to cannabinoids, so keep reading to learn more.
- What are cannabinoids?
- Cannabinoids their their health benefits
- Hemp’s top cannabinoids
- Hemp’s rarest cannabinoids
- Cannabinoids vs. microbes
- What about endocannabinoids?
- The wild world of cannabimimetics
What Are Cannabinoids?
Technically, cannabinoids are defined as any substance that can activate your body’s endocannabinoid system. They can come from cannabis, other plants, or synthetic sources.
Even phytocannabinoids don’t necessarily come from cannabis; they can come from other plants/herbs like echinacea or copaiba.
Yet another class of cannabinoids is called dietary cannabinoids. These types of cannabinoids are found in chocolate and a few other foods.
The focus of this article, however, will be the cannabinoids naturally present in cannabis. There’ll be a brief mention of other types of cannabinoids later on!
Cannabinoids And Their Health Benefits
Cannabinoids have two primary types of health benefits within the human body.
Research shows that they may:
- Help optimize certain metabolic processes
- Reduce stress and associated stress hormones
Cannabinoids and Metabolism
Whether we’re talking about THC or CBD, cannabinoids may increase the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel. Fat is cleaner-burning than carbohydrates are — which means good things for your health in the long run.
Molecular biologist Bob Melamede says that cannabinoids can go so far as to promote overall metabolic balance. According to Dr. Bob different cannabinoids play different pro-metabolic roles: 
- CBD activates CB2 receptors and fosters “cellular/organismic maintenance repair, recycling and reconstruction”
- THC activates CB1 receptors and promotes “efficient carbohydrate metabolism” and resulting cellular differentiation
To put things a little more simply, cannabinoids like CBD and THC may activate the very receptors responsible for metabolic health. Of course, eating healthy is always the best way to go — but CBD’s metabolism-friendly properties might be especially helpful for people on the standard American diet.
Cannabinoids and Stress Reduction
“The biggest killer on the planet is stress...and I still think the best medicine is and always has been cannabis.”
- Willy Nelson
It’s true: stress can have a huge impact on virtually every aspect of a person’s health. Stress, if left unchecked, can have a devastating impact on one’s health. Chronically high stress levels have been correlated with increased risks of diabetes, cancer, and all sorts of degenerative diseases.
But we’ve also got good news. Cannabinoids are among nature’s compounds when it comes to managing stress. They seem to simultaneously reduce stress hormone levels while also equipping your body to better deal with them.  Some experts consider CBD an adaptogen.
Hemp’s Top Cannabinoids
Hemp is an incredibly diverse plant. It contains hundreds of beneficial compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, healthy fats, and more.
But let’s stay focused on cannabinoids for now. Hemp’s top cannabinoids include:
CBD, or cannabidiol, is hemp’s primary cannabinoid. Hemp flowers can contain up to 20% CBD by dry weight, as can higher-strength CBD vapes and tinctures. Research shows that CBD may be a natural antioxidant agent.
As great as CBD is, it’s been a little overrated recently compared to CBDa. This cannabinoid is basically CBD’s raw form — and it possesses many of its own unique health benefits.
CBDa is actually the primary cannabinoid represented in raw hemp. Walk out onto a hemp farm and what you’ll see is CBDa, not CBD! Raw hemp and its extracts have to be heat processed to be converted into the ‘regular’ CBD you know and love.
Research shows that CBDa may hit certain serotonin receptors responsible for regulating your mood. It may also be especially good for inflammatory conditions because it inhibits certain inflammatory COX-2 enzymes.
Next to CBD, THC is probably the best-known cannabinoid out there. It’s also the most psychotropic cannabinoid. THC can cause feelings of extreme upliftment, but it can also cause couch-lock, forgetfulness, and paranoia.
You might be surprised to hear that THC is the second most prevalent cannabinoid in hemp flowers...but it’s true! The small amounts of THC present in hemp contributes to the plant’s overall entourage effect. In other words, it helps CBD work better.
THCa is to THC what CBDa is to CBD: the raw form!
THCa’s effects are completely different from ‘regular’ THC. It’s not psychotropic.
But THCa shines in many other areas. Research shows that it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-emetic properties. 
THCa products are fairly rare, though you can get access to THCa through raw cannabis. Many people enjoy juicing cannabis for these very reasons.
Hemp’s Rarest Cannabinoids
- Delta-8 THC
CBG is first on this list of rare cannabinoids for a reason: it’s the first cannabinoid to show up within a developing hemp plant.
Also called “the mother cannabinoid,” CBG has certain benefits that other cannabinoids just can’t match. It may lower intraocular pressure for those with conditions like glaucoma. 
It may also help those who are suffering from certain types of inflammation. 
CBC may be called one of the hemp’s “big six” cannabinoids, but in reality it’s usually only present in hemp products in very small amounts. Cannabinoid experts believe that CBC contributes to the entourage effect.
CBC has some commonalities with more popular cannabinoids like CBD. For one, it’s non-psychotropic...it may also target pain-sensing receptors within the endocannabinoid system.  CBC may also make for a great topical; some research hints that it may help with acne. 
If CBG is the first cannabinoid to show up in hemp, CBN is the last. All other cannabinoids get converted to CBN eventually, either because of heat or sunlight of processing.Only trace amounts of CBN are found in hemp products, but that’s okay. This cannabinoid may be so powerful that even small amounts of it are enough to contribute to the entourage effect. It’s thought that CBN has powerful pro-sleep effects.
Delta-8 THC allows one to access the best of both worlds. It offers a gentle, uplifting high...but it doesn’t have many side effects.
“People report [delta-8 THC] as being less anxiety-provoking, less sedating, and a little more clear-headed than [regular] THC,” says cannabinoid expert Dr. Peter Grinspoon. 
Delta-8 also shines when it comes to cognitive function. Unlike regular THC, delta-8 THC may actually increase some of your brain’s memory-boosting substances.
Cannabinoids vs. Microbes
Earlier we mentioned two primary things that most cannabinoids may do:
- Optimization of certain metabolic processes
- Reduction of stress and associated stress hormones
Now let’s add a third significant benefit: most cannabinoids may be able to fight off harmful bacteria. Most of the terpenes in hemp may be anti-bacterial, too!
CBD’s antibacterial effects are a constant source of research for some pharmaceutical companies. “When applied in combination with a range of antibiotics, CBD increased antibacterial effects of selected antibiotics,” explains a 2019 study which observed CBD’s effects on cell membranes. 
What About Endocannabinoids?
As great as the phytocannabinoids found in hemp are, they’re really only half of the picture. Why’s that? Because your body produces cannabinoids of its own, too! These inner cannabinoids are called endocannabinoids. They’re produced by your body...for your body.
Check out our dedicated article on the endocannabinoid system for more info on how all this works.
The Wild World of Cannabimimetics
In addition to phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids, there’s a third class of compounds that fall somewhere in the middle. These compounds don’t quite make the cut as official phytocannabinoids, but they do activate the endocannabinoid system in one way or another!
Cannabimimetics can be found in echinacea, dark chocolate, barbacoa oil, and a select few other plants.Certain activities can be cannabimimetic, too. Exercise boosts your body’s levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide several times higher than baseline. Yoga, acupuncture, and massage therapy may also provide a natural boost to your endocannabinoid system. 
Summing things up
It turns out that staying healthy may be as simple as keeping your endocannabinoid system firing on all cylinders. And that can be done in are several ways:Taking phytocannabinoids like CBD, CBG, or Delta-8 THC
- Enjoying cannabimimetic foods like dark chocolate
- Enjoying cannabimimetic activities like massage therapy
That's it for now — take care!