Endocannabinoids, Phytocannabinoids & Synthetic Cannabinoids

The word cannabinoid is used to refer to any chemical substance that attaches to cannabinoid receptors, and these cannabinoids interact uniquely with the receptors throughout the human body, in fascinating and impressive ways. In the 1960s, Israeli scientists identified chemical compounds within the cannabis plant which they named “cannabinoids”. Cannabinoids naturally occur in cannabis plants, as well as other plants. However, the cannabis plant has been restricted legally, in use and in research, for decades. Although, in recent years numerous clinical trials and studies have been carried out and continue to do so, which means that every day we learn more about the different cannabinoids.

It has been found that these chemical compounds respond with the endocannabinoid system, which is present within all mammals, including humans, by way of the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body. These cannabinoids work in synergy with other flavonoids, terpenes and compounds within plants and have a unique effect on the human body. It has been discovered that there are over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, with the primary cannabinoid being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC has psychoactive properties but is believed to have beneficial and therapeutic effects. The second most-researched cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD). As well as naturally occurring cannabinoids, there are also synthetic cannabinoids such as aminoalkylindoles, 1,5-diarylpyrazoles, and quinolines. These synthetic cannabinoids are created in a lab by copying the chemical structures of the naturally-occurring cannabinoids.

There are three recognisable classes of cannabinoids; endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids.


Endocannabinoids are the cannabinoids that are made within the human body, as well as other mammals, they are natural endogenous ligands which are produced by people and animals, connecting to the cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors are what comprise the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body. The ECS manages things such as sleep, appetite, and mood, as well as many other physiological functions. The two primary endocannabinoids within the ECS are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol, however, there are other endocannabinoids within the ECS.


Phytocannabinoids are defined by particular carbon atoms, which exclusively develop in cannabis. The phytocannabinoids are present within the plant in both its acidic and neutral forms, although once they are exposed to light or air they deteriorate due to oxidisation. Although most of the time, phytocannabinoids are commonly referred to as cannabinoids due to the prefix “phyto” meaning “pertaining to derived from plants.” However, these compounds do not only occur in the cannabis plant but also in other plants, such as Echinacea purpurea.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are quite a recent human creation and are an invention that replicates natural compounds made within a laboratory. Some synthetic cannabis products on the market include a THC-synthetic called Dronabinol, and Marinol. Some of these synthetic cannabis products have been authorised for medicinal use in the UK, Switzerland, Canada, and the US, as well as other countries. Although synthetic cannabinoids were created for study reasons, they haven’t yet demonstrated in clinical trials, that they are reliable and safe for humans in its current form. Further research into synthetic cannabinoids needs to be completed to have a better understanding of its use in treating different medical conditions in humans.

Out of all the cannabinoids found within cannabis, CBD has become the most interesting to a vast number of people, as its potential uses and effects are continuously being discovered. In the next few years, it is expected that clinical trials and other research that is being carried out will provide an understanding of how CBD can benefit people further.