Written By: Eric Singular

Cannabis contains an array of unique chemicals, known as cannabinoids. The most prolific of these is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that legally distinguishes marijuana from industrial hemp. The other prominent cannabinoid, the one you’ve likely kept hearing about since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, is cannabidiol, better known as CBD.

Besides these two, there are at least 144 more cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, as well as cannabis-specific terpenes, which are oils that give plants distinctive aromas. Scientists and researchers are continuing to discover more of these novel cannabis compounds and develop their unlocked potential.

Where do cannabinoids come from?

Cannabinoids can either be derived from the flowers and leaves of a cannabis plant – these are known as phytocannabinoids – or derived synthetically, which is typical for pharmaceutical-grade cannabis formulations, like the FDA-approved drug, Epidiolex.

There are three methods for deriving cannabinoids that depend on the extraction method. There is Full Spectrum oil or crude oil that is extracted using a solvent like butane, ethanol, or carbon dioxide. There is Broad Spectrum oil which is further refined using distillation to target the removal of THC. And there is isolate, where all other compounds are removed through a refining process leaving only a specific isolated cannabinoid, typically in powder form.

Phytocannabinoids can be added to thousands of products. Over the last six years, we’ve seen CBD emerge as one of the most popular new ingredients in the U.S.

Ultimately, there are two forms of cannabinoid-containing products. There are ingestible products, which include tinctures, soft-gel capsules, gummies, foods, or beverages. The other is topical products including lotions, salves, balms, bath bombs, serums, patches, sprays, cleansers, and creams, just to name a few.

The FDA and Cannabinoids

The FDA is the regulatory body responsible for creating guidelines for food and drug products.  As of today, the FDA has not published formal rules for products containing cannabinoids, including CBD. This means companies that manufacture CBD products currently don’t have federal standards they must abide by. While some are taking advantage of this regulatory grey area, other companies are going to great lengths to ensure the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of their products.

There’s a lot of claims being made about cannabinoids, like CBD. Some are very outlandish and have resulted in warning letters from the FDA. At this time, one of the only irrefutable claims backed by clinical research is that CBD is effective in treating epilepsy in pediatric patients.

Because of this waiting game for formal regulations, clinical research on cannabinoids is limited. However, it seems like there are new developments happening daily, and the light at the end of the tunnel may not be too far away.

While there are likely many benefits of cannabinoids, it’s important to recognize the value in accurately representing products. There is ample anecdotal evidence about the positive benefits of CBD, and other minor cannabinoids, like cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN). Everyone is different, everyone’s bodies respond differently, and no one knows your body better than you do. For a great discussion on the endocannabinoid system, listen to Dr. Carlie Bell-Biggins speak on the network of receptors in the human body that interact with cannabinoids, and the cutting edge of cannabis research.