Unveiling the Top 13 Cannabinoids: What Growers Must Know?

Amidst the recent flurry of high-level regulatory debates concerning the definition and classification of cannabinoids, we at CannaList see this as an opportune moment to delve into the scientific aspects underpinning these discussions.

Parsing the plant is necessary, especially when you understand the incredible photochemical process the plant undergoes to become cannabis. Or that some of these cannabinoids are more effective at treating certain kinds of conditions.

Some of the more exciting cannabinoids can be harvested at different times during the cultivation process (or more easily). The degradation and transformation of cannabinoids due to exposure to light and heat are also fascinating. Indeed, the relationship between some of the cannabinoids you may have heard of and many you probably haven’t is part of a complex biosynthesis that begins when the plant sprouts its first leaves.

Beyond regulation, whole plant medication and treatment is a discussion always hovering around this discussion. So is an understanding of the impact of cannabinoids working together with each other plus terpenes. The final part of this picture discusses how cannabinoids’ effects can be impacted by diet and exercise. This area of research is now about a decade old and known as “The Entourage Effect”

However exciting this entire area of exploration, the first step is understanding cannabinoid plant science. And that starts with the individual actors.

Where Cannabinoids Are “Born”

Just like other famous figures and numbers in human history, if not naturally occurring bioorganic math (see symmetry in nature, for example, or Jesus and the 12 disciples), it is crucial to understand where cannabinoids come from. There are no storks involved.

However, all cannabinoids plus terpenes, the essential oils of the plant itself, are born in the “glands” of the cannabis plant – known as trichomes.

Trichomes are the production factory for everything that is currently valued about the plant. The rest is just a natural “supply chain issue” that depends on the local environment and the quality of the “factory” itself.

The Top 13 Cannabinoids

Despite being frequently embroiled in controversy, the following list is far from unfortunate. It presents the most recognized and identified cannabinoids, provides a succinct overview of their formation, and summarizes the existing medical and clinical data. It’s important to note that this is merely a partial list, as numerous other cannabinoids have been discovered.


These are the fundamental cannabinoids that initiate the entire process. After going through one of three chemical transformations within the trichomes, also known as synthases (the THCA, the CBDA, and the CBCA), these cannabinoids transform into every other cannabinoid currently identified or studied. Few studies are available, but they are significant, including this one showing potential impact on diabetes. However, this cannabinoid extraction is certainly possible if one plans to collect it in crop cultivation strategies and uses the right extraction technique.


These are the fundamental cannabinoids that initiate the entire process.. When harvested, dried, and heated, this cannabinoid becomes delta 9 THC. The clinical applications of this cannabinoid remain limited due to its instability.


This cannabinoid is created via the transformation of CBGA, although it goes through a different biochemical process (the CBDA synthase) to become CBDA. When harvested, aged, and heated, this cannabinoid becomes CBD and CBDV. It is also the main phytocannabinoid found in hemp seed oil. Although this cannabinoid has often been overlooked in favor of CBD, early research has revealed that it may be medically useful as an anti-inflammatory, anti-emetic, anticonvulsant, and as an anti-carcinogen.


This cannabinoid is created via the CBCA synthase process from CBGA. It becomes another distinctive cannabinoid, CBLA, during the harvesting, processing, and aging process. So far, no studies have been done on the medical properties of either.

5. Delta 9 THC

Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol is one of the best known and earliest discovered (just after WWII by Raphael Mechoulam in Israel.) This is the cannabinoid most closely associated medically with impacting pain, spasticity, and chronic flashbacks related to Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD). THC’s impact in other areas (including sports meds) remains to be seen at a world-class level because of current doping laws. That said, major sports organizations, even if they are doing it quietly, are now engaged in discussions about the same as the WHO deliberates this one’s reclassification. There is more and more research about THC as medical use becomes normalized.

6. Cannabidiol CBD

Medically, Cannabidiol has been proven to help patients manage a range of conditions, from rare childhood epilepsy to pain and inflammatory diseases. The wellness discussion is still in its early days. However, the most health benefit derived from this cannabinoid will also be highly augmented by deliberate and managed changes to lifestyle changes and diet. Indeed, sometimes CBD is the cannabinoid most associated with helping people make those changes.

7. CBC (Cannabichromene)

Also known as Cannabichromene, this is a distinctive cannabinoid that is created with heat after harvesting that comes from CBCA. It is a so-called “major” cannabinoid now being studied for its anti-inflammatory properties, especially when combined with other specific cannabinoids, like THC.

8. CBG and CBGV

Cannabigerol is formed directly from CBGA during the harvesting, drying, and heating process. It is the one cannabinoid downstream of CBGA that is not chemically changed into something else before being consumed. It is one of the “major” cannabinoids found in the plant. One of the more interesting scientific studies so far has identified this cannabinoid definitively as an effective regulator of endocannabinoid signaling – in other words, it is used by the Endocannabinoid System to regulate itself.


This is a derivative cannabinoid of THCVA (unheated), but aged cultivated cannabis has not been photosynthesized into THC during the cultivation and curing process. So far, no major studies have been conducted on its potential medical properties.

10. CBN (Cannabinol)

Cannabinol is a cannabinoid that is derived from oxygen exposed THC. This is one of the reasons you have to keep your stash sealed and in a dry place. It is also why older cannabis does not deliver as much, if any, of a THC kick. Research indicates that it has cancer-fighting properties. It is also mildly psychoactive.

11. Delta 8 THC

This is another by-product cannabinoid, like CBN, that has been oxidized into another chemical. Studies have found that this cannabinoid has appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties.

12. CBL (Cannabicyclol)

Cannabicyclol is a cannabinoid formed by the decomposition (oxygen exposure) of CBC. It is the last step in the CBCA synthase process. This is a minor cannabinoid, and very little research has been done on the same.

13. CBLA

The heating of CBCA forms this cannabinoid. Interestingly, it also then degrades with time into CBL. This is also so far a mostly unstudied cannabinoid.