Phytocannabinoids vs Cannabinoids

Cannabis is a complex plant. Not only can it be hard for consumers to pin down what types of cannabis products are legal in their state or not, but it can also be challenging to understand the different beneficial parts of the cannabis plant. Can CBD get someone high? And just what is a cannabinoid anyway?

The CBD industry is in its infancy, and with the recent passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, more questions than answers about cannabis will arise in the next few years as the industry matures. This article will breakdown the differences and similarities between cannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.

What are phytocannabinoids?

When people hear the word “cannabis,” they most often think of THC or CBD. THC and CBD are cannabinoids, which are chemical compounds that the cannabis plant, both hemp, and marijuana, produce in varying quantities and degrees. But the cannabis plant is home to more than 100 different cannabinoids. The difference between phytocannabinoids and cannabinoids is minimal, and it comes down to specificity. A phytocannabinoid is a naturally-occurring concentrated oil that is present in the resin that coats the leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. Cannabinoid chemicals are present in the resin.

Where do cannabinoids fall in this taxonomy?

THC and CBD are considered phytocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids differ from endogenous cannabinoids, which are produced naturally in the body’s endocannabinoid system. Phytocannabinoids and cannabinoids, impact the endocannabinoid system differently.

What are the different kinds of phytocannabinoids?

There are dozens of phytocannabinoids that scientists know about. But because the cannabis plant has been illegal for almost 100 years, new phytocannabinoids are being discovered, as research on cannabis is in its infancy and currently underway. The most well-known phytocannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

What phytocannabinoids are legal?

The cannabis plant family is broken down into two main strains – marijuana and hemp. Both of these plant strains contain different phytocannabinoids. But the hemp plant does not contain THC or at least minimal THC. Most CBD products that are sold on the market today come from hemp plants.

Both THC and CBD are legal in states where medical and recreational marijuana have been legalized. On a federal level, CBD is legal, but not THC.


THC is the phytocannabinoid that is the most psychoactive and also comes with addictive qualities. Marijuana plants can sometimes contain as much as 35% THC, while hemp plants typically contain 3% or less. The side effects of THC can include the following symptoms:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Dry red, itchy eyes
  • Sleepiness and lethargy
  • Euphoria or high
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increased appetite
  • Paranoia

In large quantities, THC can induce psychosis, and also trigger panic attacks in some people. However, THC can also offer pain relief and other benefits for cancer patients and people living with chronic pain. THC can help alleviate nausea and stimulate appetite while also providing users with some analgesic effects.


CBG is a cannabinoid that may offer some therapeutic effects for users. It is also not a psychoactive substance. CBG may be used to treat the following conditions:

  • Chronic pain
  • Skin conditions such as psoriasis
  • Depression and anxiety

Some studies on CBG have also found that CBG may reduce intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients, and can also offer users anti inflammatory effects.


CBN is another phytocannabinoid that does not get a person high. Mostly, CBN has been found to be useful for helping people with insomnia or other sleep issues, since this compound has strong sedative effects. CBN is created when THC is exposed to the air and oxidizes. In ancient tombs where cannabis plants have been found, test results have shown high levels of CBN in the plants.


CBD is a phytocannabinoid that is found in abundance in most strains of hemp. The compound has many therapeutic benefits and effects. Studies have found that CBD can help with insomnia, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. It is rare for CBD to cause any adverse side effects. In rare cases, CBD use can trigger seizures in at-risk individuals. CBD can also interact with some prescription medications. Before using CBD, it is critical that consumers talk to their doctor first.

The most common side effects of CBD use include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite changes
  • Nausea

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Are phytocannabinoids addictive?

Most phytocannabinoids are not addictive. So far, research has concluded that only the THC found in marijuana plants has addictive qualities. Studies have indicated that around 30% of regular marijuana users have an addiction or dependency on the substance. The body can also build a tolerance to THC, making it likely that a regular marijuana user will need more and more of the substance to get the same effect.

Other beneficial phytocannabinoids, CBD, CBN, and CBG, are non-addictive, and using these phytocannabinoids comes with less risk than using THC-derived products or using marijuana.

Where can someone buy CBD products?

CBD products come in several forms. It is possible for consumers to purchase CBD isolate products, that only contain the phytocannabinoid CBD. Consumers can also purchase broad spectrum CBD products, that contain other phytocannabinoids such as CBN, and CBG. Full spectrum CBD products contain all phytocannabinoids and THC.

Depending on the state a person lives in, it is possible to find a brick-and-mortar CBD or medical marijuana dispensary in their community. But, most people purchase their CBD products online. It’s critical that consumers research a CBD oil company before making a purchase to ensure a high-quality product that is free of chemicals and other additives.

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