According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institute of Health (NIH), over
Not all of these substances cause the effects that marijuana is renowned for, namely the intoxicating high it produces in users. In fact, cannabinoids are the subject of recent study for their potential to help people manage certain medical symptoms and conditions such as pain and anxiety.
Whether you’re looking for legal alternatives to cannabis and want to leverage its many effects without getting high, or if you’re seeking a new twist on your elevation routine, there’s a growing market for legal alternatives that can have therapeutic effects.
In today’s article, we’ll be discussing alternative legal cannabinoids: Their effects, where they come from and how they’re best consumed. Let’s dig in.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are certain substances found in the plant. According to the Alcohol and Drugs Foundation (ADF), cannabinoids refer to chemical structures that
The two most commonly used cannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (the psychoactive “THC”) and cannabidiol (“CBD”). Besides these, over 140 cannabinoids have been identified and isolated from the plant.
How Do Cannabinoids Affect the Body?
Cannabinoids have long been consumed for recreational and medical purposes. However, depending on the cannabinoid in question, it has different effects on the human body.
Often, people who buy marijuana associate anything weed-related with getting high. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the cannabis plant’s primary active constituent and also one of the plant’s psychoactive components (what makes the consumer high).
As per research from the University of Ulm, in Germany, psychoactive cannabinoids like THC
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol binds to our body’s natural cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2 receptors), which causes our bodies to produce excess chemicals leading to the feeling of being “high.”
On the other hand, cannabidiol doesn’t bind to any of our cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it acts on other cellular receptors in the body, causing more physical effects, which is why cannabidiol is often used to reduce inflammation and relax muscles (and if you’re curious to learn more, you can read all about the
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), marijuana and products derived from the plant are being
- Reduce inflammation
- Pain management
- Symptoms of glaucoma
Which Cannabinoids Are Legally Controlled?
Cannabis laws throughout the U.S. are different on federal and state levels and can vary significantly between many states. For instance, some states have approved the use of cannabidiol for medical purposes only. In others, it’s completely legal for recreational purposes too and not always limited to purchase in dispensaries.
Laws around marijuana consumption haven’t changed at a federal level for about 80 years. In the U.S., a marijuana plant is considered a Schedule I drug, meaning it’s an illegal drug on a federal level. However, there are many state exceptions, so it’s always a good idea to check state-specific rules.
Hemp, another type of cannabis, differs from marijuana because it produces less than 0.3% THC. If a plant has more than 0.3%, it is considered marijuana.
With the release of the 2018 Farm Bill, the hemp plant was
CBD and Other Legal Cannabinoids
Here are some of the most commonly known types of legal cannabinoids currently produced for sale; if you’re looking for legal cannabinoid alternatives, there’s no lack of options in today’s market.
HHC is about 70-80% the strength of THC, which makes it more potent than other hemp-derived cannabinoids. Although research into HHC is still in the very early stages, consumers report similar psychoactive effects and more relaxing qualities when compared to Delta-8.
Delta-8 is reported as being a mood-enhancing cannabinoid, with a deeper, “stonier” high than other, similar cannabinoids, and is often mixed with regular THC or CBD oil for use in vape pens or before being infused with gummies.
Delta-10 is similar to Delta-8 THC in terms of potency and is less potent than regular Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.
D-10 THC can cause a high in the consumer, but it’s commonly reported as providing energizing effects, with a more “cerebral” and uplifting high than Delta-8.
THC-O is a synthetic chemical twin of THC. Although it is classed as a cannabinoid, it doesn’t occur naturally and can only be manufactured synthetically with modern technology.
THC-O (as with other “-O” cannabinoids) is a “precursor” or “pro-drug” molecule, meaning it must be metabolized properly by the body to have any noticeable effect – in short, unlike other forms of THC, THC-O takes time to become active in the body, with many reporting effects “creeping in” after 20 or 30 minutes have passed since the initial point of consumption..
Most THC-O users report an intense high, combined with euphoric feeling that’s has earned it a nickname of “the psychedelic cannabinoid”.
THCP, short for tetrahydrocannabiphorol, is a natural cannabinoid like THC, present in many strains.
THCP is reportedly 33 times more active in our endocannabinoid system and causes a euphoric high in users. For this reason, it’s often touted as being a great alternative for pain relief and sleep aid for anyone who has insomnia, but as with many of the cannabinoids on this list it has not been studied thoroughly from a scientific standpoint.
Evidence has also shown that THCV can act as a CB1 receptor antagonist at low levels, meaning it can potentially cause some of THC’s less desirable effects, such as worsened cognitive function and food cravings.
THCV has also been nicknamed the “race car” of cannabinoids, as most report a short but strong energetic high when consumed.
Cannabidiol doesn’t contain THC, so it doesn’t cause a “high” in the consumer. According to the World Health Organization, “In humans, cannabidiol exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
Almost all states in the US legalized the use of CBD with varying restrictions when the 2018 Farm Bill was passed; Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska being notable exceptions.
Many studies are being conducted into the medicinal use of CBD, and there is plenty of
CBG is a cannabinoid found in very small quantities in the plant. Compared with CBD (20-25%) and THC (30%), only 1% of CBG can be found in a single plant. For this reason, CBG consumer products are often expensive and hard to come by. However, it’s growing in popularity as people begin to recognize the host of benefits it offers.
Like CBD, CBG is typically used for medicinal purposes, without providing consumers the same “high” as THC. However, relatively few studies have been done, and more research is required to cement this product as an effective cannabinoid for medical purposes.
Cannabinol is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. It’s primarily found in plants that are aged and stored and is derived from its main psychoactive chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol.
CBN has been shown to have sedative properties that could relieve pain symptoms and insomnia; many consumers report intense feelings of drowsiness and a desire to sleep after partaking in cannabis rich in CBN.
Cannabivarin is considered a non-psychoactive cannabinoid with the potential to treat a range of psychiatric mood disorders, neuropathic pain and multiple sclerosis.
CBV is relatively “new” to the alternative cannabinoid marketspace and does not have much information available; as studies become available, we’ll make sure to keep this space updated with more information.
Cannabidivarin (CBDV) is similar in structure to CBD and does not affect cognitive thought or function (IE: no high). There is potential for it to be used to treat seizures, nausea, inflammation, and other conditions, however, much like many other cannabinoids on this list, additional research and studies are needed to verify these claims.
Low Concentration Cannabinoids
Cannabinodiol is a psychoactive cannabinoid present at low concentrations. It’s fully aromatized, but not much research has been conducted into its effects and potential uses.
Another non-psychoactive cannabinoid, little research has been done into its effects when isolated from other cannabinoids.
Cannabicyclol is a low concentration cannabinoid. In particular, CBL has proven to be difficult to extract from the plant in large quantities, leading in part to little research having been conducted on the subject.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are chemical compounds found in nature – many plants and animals create terpenes as part of their biological functions. They’re what cause aromas, flavors and certain colors in different types of vegetation.
These terpenes are what make different strains of cannabis smell or taste different from others. Manufacturers also use them to create fragrances in products like perfumes, body products and some foods.
They can also affect the endocannabinoid system similar to cannabinoids; the difference lies in how our bodies absorb them.
Introduction to Cannabis Terpenes
There are more than 140 terpenes present in the plant, some of which are exclusively found in the cannabis plant. The most common include:
Limonene is a prevalent terpene in the rind of common citrus fruits like oranges and lemons and in other things like rosemary and peppermint. Some strains of cannabis contain higher levels of limonene than others, which varies depending on genetics, growing techniques and other processes.
Myrcene is typically found in hops, thyme and lemongrass. It presents as one of the most dominant terpenes in cannabis’s earthy aroma.
Linalool is a floral aroma that’s also found in plants like lavender. It’s considered a mood enhancer and is often used for treating pain symptoms and reducing the effects of anxiety, depression and insomnia.
This terpene has a spicy aroma that’s often noticeable in spices like black pepper and cinnamon.
The pine smell of marijuana is due to this terpene. Also found in pine needles, basil and rosemary, it’s responsible for one of marijuana’s signature smells.
What Are Flavonoids?
Flavonoids are natural substances found in various plants, fruits, flowers and vegetables. They’re usually responsible for providing color pigmentation in these things. They produce therapeutic effects when isolated and are used in medicinal products and pharmaceuticals.
Flavinoids can have anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic effects. In marijuana, you can find more than 20 naturally-occurring flavonoids, the most common being apigenin, luteolin, quercetin, cannflavin A and cannflavin B.
How Do Cannabinoids, Terpenes and Flavonoids Work Together?
The way cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids work together has traditionally been explained by the entourage effect. Simply put, this theory suggests that all the compounds present in the plant work together to enhance the plant’s therapeutic effects. It suggests that a whole plant extract is much more powerful than using isolated compounds such as CBD or any other cannabinoid alone.
This suggests that whole plant medicine offers a higher likelihood of experiencing beneficial effects of treating inflammation, chronic pain, anxiety and more. That cannabinoids, terpenes and flavinoids work together to produce a better, more noticeable effect than when taken alone.
Unfortunately, this is also one of these areas of study where information can be conflicting. We discuss this topic in detail in our article
That doesn’t mean that the terpenes and flavonoids have no therapeutic effects on humans at all; lemonene has been proven to be energetic, while the calming scents of linalool can help put the mind and body at ease. For now, though, additional research will need to be completed to help us more fully understand the interplay between cannabinoid and terpene.
Is CBD legal everywhere in the US?
The 2018 Farm Bill made CBD products legal throughout the U.S. as long as their THC content doesn’t exceed 0.3%. However, state laws can differ, and as noted above CBD is flatly illegal in some areas and restricted in others; same with Delta-8 THC and other cannabinoids on our list. Always check specific rules for your state before purchasing any cannabis products.
Which cannabinoids are hemp-derived products?
Many cannabinoids are derived from hemp, the most popular being CBD and Delta-8 THC
Are there any legal cannabinoids that provide similar benefits to THC?
There are synthetically-produced products that provide effects similar to cannabinoids; dronabinol and nabilone being examples. These are synthetically-produced products created for medicinal purposes, and they typically require a prescription to obtain.
Where are cannabinoid receptors located in the body?
The body’s CB1 receptors are primarily located in the brain, but they’re also found on the spinal cord and other organs such as the spleen and tissues like white blood cells. CB2 receptors are found predominantly in cells and tissues of the immune system.
A Note Of Caution
CBD remains the most popular cannabinoid, but others are quickly becoming more available, and if you live in a state without legalized cannabis use, odds are you’ve already seen signs promoting Delta-8 THC peppering every gas station and convenience store you’ve visited over the last several years.
Unfortunately, herein lies the issue, and one worth knowing before trying random “legal cannabinoid” products found over-the-counter. Though we think of cannabis as being harmless, not all of the cannabinoid products being currently sold (such as THC-O) are naturally found in the cannabis plant, instead being synthesized or converted from other cannabinoids such as CBD.
Many of the cannabinoids in our list above are severely lacking in research, and for those not naturally found in the plant, it can be anyone’s guess what long-term effects they might have. Additionally, the quasi-legal and semi-underground nature of the “legal cannabinoid” market means that
Before purchasing any cannabis good, buyers should understand
If you’re looking for legal alternatives to marijuana and want to benefit from its therapeutic effects, there’s a growing market for cannabinoid products in various shapes and forms.
But, as with all things, buyers should be aware of what they’re purchasing, and arm themselves with the knowledge of how to make smart, safe decisions in their consumption: Read labels, purchase from known providers, and stay away from deals that are “too good to be true” or cannabinoids that haven’t been verified as safe to consume.
No matter what you choose to consume and how, though, we hope our list of alternative cannabinoids has proven helpful. There’s a lot of choice in today’s market, and we hope to help our readers stay informed. Happy smoking!