Cannabinoids: An Overview

The hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) industry is an increasingly prosperous market. However, ambiguity surrounding product knowledge and legalities creates hindrances and obstacles for business owners and entrepreneurs alike. Before launching and investing in a start-up or existing CBD business, it is essential to fully understand the product that your CBD business will be dealing with: a specific class of compounds, known as “cannabinoids.” CBD is just one of many cannabinoids found in the hemp plant, and while many states have statutes and regulations that apply solely to CBD products, several of the other predominant cannabinoids in hemp will most likely be coming to mass market. Below, we break down the basic distinctions between the most prevalent types of cannabinoids to further assist your knowledge and understanding of hemp/CBD

What is Hemp?

Hemp, a member of the Cannabis genus, is physically and genetically distinct from marijuana. The common cultivar in the United States is Cannabis sativa L. In the United States, hemp may be legally grown in States or Tribal Nations with an approved growth plan under the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill officially and legally defines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” Additionally, the Farm Bill clarifies the legality of hemp and popular cannabinoids derived from hemp, such as CBD.

What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds that interact with receptors in the endocannabinoid system. The term “cannabinoids” often refers to the naturally occurring compounds present in the Cannabis sativa L. plant (phytocannabinoids), but cannabinoids can also be biologically produced (endocannabinoids) or synthetically created (synthetic cannabinoids).

What are phytocannabinoids?

Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids found naturally in the cannabis plant, typically concentrated in a viscous resin. These compounds are rich in terpenes, a substance produced by plants with a strong odor that often serves to protect themselves by deterring herbivores. Two of the most well-known phytocannabinoids are CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, there are over one hundred other cannabinoids present in Cannabis sativa, including cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), cannabicyclol (CBL), and more. 

Different phytocannabinoids display different levels of affinity for the body’s endocannabinoid system and can interact with endocannabinoid receptors to produce a variety of effects. Some phytocannabinoids, such as THC or CBN, exhibit psychoactive effects while others, such as CBD, CBG, or CBD, are not known for psychoactivity. Phytocannabinoids are currently undergoing significant research and testing to uncover their specific, individual effects and influence on the endocannabinoid system and the human body. 

What are endocannabinoids?

Endocannabinoids, or endogenous cannabinoids, are chemical compounds produced on demand by the body that bind with cannabinoid receptors to alter the release of neurotransmitters and maintain homeostasis. These compounds play an important role in the body’s nervous system by regulating internal and external responses to stimuli. One of the most notable examples of endocannabinoids is anandamide, which engages with receptors in the central or peripheral nervous system and is believed to play a role in functions involving appetite, sleep, and pain relief. 

What are synthetic cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids are human-manufactured drugs, typically sprayed onto plants and are intended to produce similar effects of illegal drugs such as marijuana. Like other cannabinoids, they serve as agonists to endocannabinoid receptors to alter functions associated with the nervous system. These compounds often produce psychoactive effects when smoked or consumed in a concentrated liquid form. With limited standards and regulations, synthetic cannabinoids are known as unsafe and unpredictable products and are, therefore, mostly illegal. Synthetic cannabinoids are classified as controlled substances under many state statutes. 

Because of the uncertainty and, at times, conflict between federal and state law regarding hemp and/or CBD, it is crucial to retain a qualified cannabis lawyer to advise your hemp or CBD business. The lawyers at Ritter Spencer Cheng work with numerous clients in the hemp industry, including the cannabidiol market. We remain very active in legislative activity impacting the hemp and cannabis fields and continue to represent hemp and legal cannabis companies for their business, transactional, and compliance issues. Contact Ritter Spencer Cheng or give us a call at 214.295.5070 for more information.