What are Phytocannabinoids?

Medical Cannabis in Treating Cancer Symptoms

9 October 2017

Healthcare professionals considering cannabinoid based treatments will encounter terms such as ‘phyto-cannabinoids and ‘endocannabinoids‘. In this blog we explore the nature of phytocannabinoids.

While endocannabinoids are cannabinoids synthesised in our bodies, phytocannabinoids are the cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant. They are produced inside glandular trichomes, mainly found on the female flowering heads. The pharmacological and medicinal properties of cannabis are largely due to the interaction of these phytocannabinoids with receptors in our bodies.

The two most abundant and well known phytocannabinoids are Δ 9 – tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ 9 -THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).


Δ 9 -THC

Δ 9 -THC is the most well-known plant cannabinoid. It can interact with the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2 in the human body and result in a range of physiological effects. Binding of Δ 9 -THC with the CB1 receptor is believed to be responsible for the “high” feeling often sought after by those who use cannabis recreationally. Δ 9 -THC also possesses great therapeutic potential and has been reported to have analgesic, anti-spasmodic, anti-emetic, appetite stimulant, muscle relaxant and neuro-antioxidative effects (1).


CBD is the second most studied phytocannabinoid. Like THC, CBD has been reported to have numerous therapeutic effects, including anti-convulsive, anti inflammatory, anxiolytic, and analgesic properties, however, unlike THC, CBD has no psychoactive activity. As such, CBD oil preparations of >98% CBD are classed as Schedule 4 in Australia.

Minor Cannabinoids

Much less is known about the remaining phytocannabinoids, however, interest in their physiological effects and potential therapeutic uses is growing. Animal studies and in vitro work have suggested that these minor cannabinoids may have anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-convulsant properties. Cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN) may also be effective against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) (2).

A number of minor cannabinoids are currently under investigation for potential therpeutic benefit:

  • Δ 8 -tetrahydrocannabinol Δ 8 -THC
  • Cannabinol CBN
  • Cannabigerol CBG
  • Cannabivarin CBV
  • Cannabichromene CBC
  • Cannabidivarin CBDV
  • Cannabinodiol CBND
  • 9 -tetrahydrocannabivarin THCV
  • Cannabielsion CBE
  • Cannabicyclol CBL
  • Cannabitriol CBT

1. Andre, Hausman, and Guerriero. Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules. Front Plant Sci. 2016; 7: 19.
2. Russo. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011 Aug; 163(7): 1344–1364.

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