Chemistry of Cannabis

Cannabis produces a unique class of chemical compounds called cannabinoids, which are primarily, but not exclusively, responsible for the plant’s therapeutic and psychotropic properties. Cannabinoids are hydrocarbons that consist of bound atoms of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. Thus far, cannabis has been shown to produce at least 113 cannabinoids, with ongoing research uncovering new variations.

In raw plant form, Cannabis contains the acidic compound THCA, not Delta 9-THC, and therefore could be ingested with no pharmacological or psychotropic effects. Only when heated does the acidic compound THCA convert to biologically active THC (Delta 9-THC) in a process called decarboxylation (loss of carboxylic acid functional group). The rule applies to all cannabinoids: decarboxylation converts acidic CBDA to neutral CBD; CBGA to CBG; etc.

Due to its psychotropic effects on the human brain, THC (Delta 9-THC) is the best-known cannabinoid. The amount of THC in Cannabis can vary greatly (< 0.3 – 25% dry weight) and the plant has been cultivated aggressively in the modern era to produce potent strains laden with THC.

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