Active compounds present in cannabis

The plant Cannabis sativa L. produces significant amounts of a family of compounds of terpenophenolic nature known as cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids, given their vegetal origin. Cannabinoids were first isolated from cannabis in the beginning of the 1960’s and, to date, 125 different cannabinoids have been identified in extracts from the plant.

Two cannabinoids are more relevant given their abundance, pharmacological profile, and thus therapeutic potential: ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol, abbreviated as ∆9-THC or simply THC, and cannabidiol, also known as CBD.

THC is particularly abundant in drug-type cannabis varieties —called marijuana— and is the main responsible for the neuroactive action of cannabis. THC is responsible for the psychotropic effects traditionally associated to recreational use of cannabis, but, more importantly, THC is also responsible for most therapeutic applications of the plant, especially those depending on its action on the nervous system.

CBD, traditionally enriched in fiber-type cannabis plants —known as hemp— is the major non-psychotropic cannabinoid, also with promising pharmacological profile to treat a wide variety of pathologies.

Nevertheless, there are other minor cannabinoids which are receiving increasing interest for their pharmacological profile and potential therapeutic utility. Examples of these are cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC) and ∆9-tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), as well as the acid forms of the main cannabinoids (THCA, CBDA, CBGA, etc.), to mention a few.

Likewise, the cannabis plant produces hundreds of other molecules of various chemical classes, many of which are currently investigated for its bioactivity, such as terpenoids, flavonoids and other phenols, which could also be involved in the therapeutic action of cannabinoid-based medicines.

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