Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids made by plants and the cannabis plant generates hundreds of them. Some you may have heard of, like THC and CBD. Others such as CBN, CBG, CBC and CBL are not fully understood due to a hundred year ban on research.
The cannabinoids are formed and concentrated in the plant's trichomes: The sticky gland hairs on the plant surface. Certain compounds are available in cannabis' raw state (THCA, CBDA), many are achieved when heated (THC, CBD, CBC), while some others develop with age or oxidation (CBN, CBL).
The cannabinoids produced in the cannabis plant trigger specific human brain receptors as if they were made for each other. To understand how and why these compounds interact and fit together so well, researchers focused on the human body. They found that like plants our bodies also produce cannabinoids. When cannabinoids are produced by the body they are called Endocannabinoids and are part of our Endocannabinoid System. Since we already had a system in place to both make and receive cannabinoids, when we introduce outside cannabinoids they simply use our existing system to trigger receptors effecting both mental and bodily functions.
This is why it is important to understand which compounds and terpenes are in a strain because those are the things that signal to our brain how to react.
Identified in 1964, THC is the longest studied cannabinoid and the primary psychoactive compound found in the cannabis trichome binding to both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain.
It reduces nausea, especially helpful with chemotherapy, offers a bronchodilatory effect, meaning it relaxes airway muscles, has a strong appetite stimulating effect and is commonly used for its euphoric effects on mood or to address pain.
The CBD compound was isolated in 1940 but was not positively identified until 1963. CBD is not psychoactive like THC so it is "non-intoxicating.”
CBD both works well with THC and is known to cancel out the unwanted effects of THC intoxication (anxiety, elevated heart rate, feelings of paranoia).
CBD has many medicinal properties and is currently being studied as an anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-epileptic and antipsychotic medication.
In testing both whole plant extractions and synthesized single-molecule productions, researchers have found that whole plant extractions offer over 400 trace compounds that interact synergistically to create an "entourage effect" from its multiple components. This means when many compounds work together they magnify the benefits of the plant much better than one compound at a time. So someone's experience with a single molecule or synthesized medication may be very different than a whole plant extract.