A cannabis leaf outline with the text "What are cannabinoids?"

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, cannabinoids, namely CBD (and a few others), have been attracting some attention. While many try to make a quick buck by selling cannabinoid-infused products as miracle cures, the science behind cannabinoids is much more nuanced. 

In this post, we’re going to discuss, 

  • What cannabinoids are 
  • How they interact with our body
  • And, how external cannabinoids like CBD figure into the equation

What Are Cannabinoids: The Basics

Cannabinoids are a type of chemical compound produced by flowering cannabis plants. In this context, cannabis plants refer to Cannabis Sativa L. plants and mean both hemp and THC-dominant cannabis plants. What makes cannabinoids special is their ability to interact with the endocannabinoid systems (ECS) found in mammals, including us humans. 

As of today, researchers have discovered over 100 different cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant, though they expect to discover more. 

The Endocannabinoid System

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the 1980s and early 1990s shed light on the importance of cannabinoids in the human body. Our endocannabinoid system consists of three parts: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes


Endocannabinoids act as neurotransmitters, carrying messages between your cells, helping them maintain homeostasis. Think of them as your body’s bike messengers delivering messages to receptors all over your body. The messages can include,

  • Produce and release growth hormone
  • Release dopamine
  • Time to release melatonin 

The first endocannabinoid, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), was discovered in 1992 in the lab of Israeli chemist, Raphael Mechoulam. Since then, researchers have discovered and cataloged over a hundred more cannabinoids that interact with your ECS. 1


Researchers have identified two different types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2 receptors. While CB1 receptors are found mainly in your brain and central nervous system, CB2 receptors are found throughout your immune system and all over your internal organs. 

Researchers discovered and cloned these receptors in the early 90s— CB1 in 1990 and CB2 in 1993. The discovery and confirmation of these receptors led researchers to hypothesize and find endogenous cannabinoids (endo-cannabinoids) that are produced inside your body. 1


Once cannabinoids complete their messaging tasks, enzymes break them down so that your body can safely dispose of them. The primary enzymes responsible for endocannabinoid system cleanup are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). 2

What Are Phytocannabinoids

Your body produces endocannabinoids for internal purposes, but we started this post talking about cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. We call those external, plant-based cannabinoids phytocannabinoids. 

Phytocannabinoids mimic our body’s endocannabinoids and interact with our CB1 and CB2 receptors in varying ways. There are many different phytocannabinoids, but the most popular include, 

Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD is short for cannabidiol and unlike THC and CBN it’s not psychoactive, meaning that it doesn’t cause intoxication or make the user feel “high.” Instead, CBD interacts with both your CB1 and CB2 receptors to facilitate the uptake of beneficial endocannabinoids. 

Back to our bike messenger analogy. If our endocannabinoids are messengers carrying important directions to different parts of our body, CBD is like the traffic cop who stops traffic and lets those messengers through. This can be quite helpful when our endocannabinoids are sending anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and anti-anxiety messages. 

Cannabinol (CBN)

Cannabinol, shortened to CBN, is mildly psychoactive. It is the oxidated form of THC and interacts with our ECS and CB1 receptors in the same way. While we still don’t know for certain the isolated effects of CBN on humans, we believe that it may help facilitate better sleep

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

The most well-known phytocannabinoid thanks to its psychoactive properties, THC is a strong CB1 agonist. When THC binds to our CB1 receptors, we may feel euphoria, time dilation, and changes in mood and cognitive skills. 

The Entourage Effect

While we’ve identified over 100 cannabinoids to date, it’s important to note that cannabinoids, both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids, don’t work (well) in isolation. Research suggests that the interaction between the full spectrum of cannabinoids is vital to experiencing any benefits. This interaction is known as the “entourage effect.”

What Are Cannabinoids: Summarized

While the discovery of endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system is truly exciting, it’s important to realize that it’s relatively uncharted biology and that we know very little about how the system works. 

That being said, we know even less about phytocannabinoids, which is why we don’t make any medical claims about our handcrafted hemp products. We do believe that cannabinoids can be beneficial, but each person needs to determine what their needs are and what product is right for them.


  1. International League Against Epilepsy, “The discovery of the endocannabinoid system: Centuries in the making”, Newswise.com, Newswise Inc., Jan. 27, 2019, www.newswise.com/articles/the-discovery-of-the-endocannabinoid-system-centuries-in-the-making, Aug. 17, 2023
  2. Basavarajappa, Balapal S. Critical Enzymes Involved in Endocannabinoid Metabolism.” Protein and Peptide Lettersvol. 14no. 32006p. 237https://doi.org/10.2174/092986607780090829. Accessed 17 Aug. 2023.