Cannabinoids: Beyond THC

By Spencer Brooks

There’s a good chance you’ve heard about THC, the main intoxicating compound in cannabis. But did you know that there’s a lot more to cannabis than just THC? 

THC is one of more than 100 cannabinoids -- compounds found in cannabis that influence your brain function. Until recently, most cannabis research has focused on THC. But in the last decade, scientists have begun to explore the many other compounds in cannabis, and the potential benefits they may offer. 

Here’s a look at the most promising non-THC cannabinoids in cannabis, as well as the latest research on what each one may offer.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD is probably the second most famous compound in cannabis. It’s THC’s non-intoxicating cousin, meaning it won’t make you feel ‘high.’ That’s a major benefit for a lot of patients as CBD may still offer similar symptom relief as THC without the intoxicating effects.

Research shows that CBD is good for:

  • Pain. A recent review of 18 studies found that, on average, daily CBD reduced chronic pain by 43% in patients with long-term illness[*]. 
  • Sleep. If you struggle to get a good night’s rest, taking CBD before bed may help. A study of 72 adults who had trouble sleeping (but were otherwise healthy) found that CBD significantly improved sleep quality and ability to fall asleep[*].
  • Anxiety. The sleep study referenced above also found that CBD helped to relieve anxiety in 79% of patients[*]. 
  • Inflammation. Part of CBD’s pain-relieving action seems to come from helping to decrease inflammation[*]. It may be an especially good option if you get inflamed joints. 
  • Epilepsy. CBD may enhance epilepsy medication, helping to prevent seizures in some patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy[*]. More recent research has found that CBD on its own may decrease seizures as well, although there’s still more to study[*]. 

As always, talk to a healthcare professional before changing your medications or using cannabis to treat any medical issue. Your doctor can help you figure out if medical cannabis may work well for you. 

High-CBD cannabis strains:

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)

THCV was discovered back in 1970[*]. Early research found that THCV is intoxicating, but it’s only about 25% as potent as THC[*]. 

After discovering THCV and doing a couple preliminary studies, researchers set THCV aside for several decades, focusing instead on THC. In the last few years, however, there’s been renewed interest in THCV. 

While we’re still just beginning to understand what THCV does, research has found a couple interesting potential benefits. This cannabinoid may help with:

  • Appetite control. Recent research found that people who took THCV showed more activity in the part of the brain that controls appetite and impulsive eating[*]. The study’s authors concluded that THCV may prevent overeating and could encourage weight loss -- obese people show decreased activity in the same brain area that THCV activates. 
  • Balancing THC. At higher doses, THCV gets you mildly high, but at lower doses it seems to do the opposite. Low-dose THCV competes with THC in your brain. They both attach to the same receptor, and because THCV is so much less potent, it can actually block out THC and prevent you from feeling as intoxicated. Men who took THCV alongside THC reported that they were significantly less intoxicated than men who took THC alone[*]. They also didn’t show the increased heart rate that THC can cause. A high-THCV cannabis strain may balance out THC, allowing you to function better while still getting the medical benefits of cannabis.
  • Blood sugar balance. Diabetics who took THCV saw a significant decrease in their blood sugar levels[*], and rats given THCV showed better blood sugar control[*]. THCV may help prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes, and the energy dip that comes with them.

Quick note: if you’re vaping and you want THCV, you’ll want to turn your vaporizer temperature up pretty high -- to at least 220 °C (428 °F). That’s the temperature at which THCV vaporizes.

High-THCV cannabis strains:

  • Power Plant
  • Durban Poison
  • Girl Scout Cookies
  • Doug’s Varin
  • Pineapple Purps

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA)

THCA is the raw, unheated form of THC. Heating cannabis (and, to a lesser extent, drying it) converts THCA to THC.

However, you can also use unheated cannabis and get THCA instead of THC. THCA is non-intoxicating and may have a few potential benefits. It may help with:

  • Inflammation. A study done in cells found that THCA prevented inflammation[*]. It could be good for inflammatory diseases like arthritis. 
  • Nausea and appetite. THCA may prevent nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss, according to research in rodents[*]. No studies in humans yet, but THCA may be worth a try if you struggle with nausea or loss of appetite. 

Any high-THC flower that hasn’t been heated will have plenty of THCA. One of the most popular ways to consume THCA is by juicing it. Many people also add raw cannabis to smoothies to get THCA. 

High-THCA cannabis strains (as long as they’re unheated):

Keep in mind that these strains may also contain some THC, even if they’re unheated, so you may still feel the intoxicating effects. 

Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)

CBDA is the cannabis plant’s stored form of CBD. As a plant dries or is heated, CBDA converts to CBD. 

Juicing, adding to a smoothie, or otherwise consuming raw high-CBD cannabis will give you a big dose of CBDA. While this cannabinoid doesn’t have any human research backing it yet, several animal studies have found that CBDA may help with:

  • Depression and anxiety. CBDA binds strongly to the same brain receptors that antidepressants target, which led scientists to wonder if CBDA may be good for depression[*]. There’s no human research yet, but rat studies are promising: depressed rats given CBDA showed an immediate decrease in depression and anxiety-related behavior[*]. 
  • Epilepsy. Early studies also show that CBDA may be good for treatment-resistant epilepsy, although the research is still in its infancy[*]. 

While it shows promise, CBDA is still pretty new to the cannabis scene, and there’s a lot more to learn about it. That said, if you want to give CBDA a try and see how it makes you feel, you can get it by consuming raw, unheated cannabis that has high levels of CBD. 

High-CBDA cannabis strains (as long as they’re unheated):

The many cannabinoids in cannabis

The cannabis plant contains more than 100 different cannabinoids, and researchers are just starting to learn about most of them. As cannabis research continues, we may discover even more therapeutic uses for cannabis. 

In the meantime, THC and CBD have a wide variety of benefits that are pretty well-established, from pain management to improved mood. If you want to give them a try, talk to a medical professional today and find out if cannabis is right for you. You can do your evaluation online in just a few minutes, and if you’re approved, you can have cannabis delivered right to your door.