Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on December 26, 2022

The cannabis plant has been researched for years now, and the research isn’t nearly close to being finished. Scientists have discovered that cannabis has over 400 chemical entities and more than 60 cannabinoid compounds. Some of the cannabinoid compounds are psychoactive, others sedative, but one thing is certain, cannabis has been used for over 10,000 years, and people won’t stop using it any time soon.

Cannabis users often research weed to figure out the health effects or side effects that cannabis can give them, so it’s no wonder that people are eager to know how many chemicals are in weed. This article will go over the most important active ingredients in weed and their purpose, as well as discuss the other chemical compounds which are present in weed.

Cannabinoids: The Main Active Ingredients in Cannabis

Some of the most important active ingredients in weed are cannabinoids. They’re the chemical compounds that interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain through the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and produce various effects. The ECS is responsible for our metabolism, appetite, short-term memory, and other functions, and is the reason why weed has effects on users.

We know that the brain has a lot of different receptors, but the ones that weed affects the most are the cannabinoid receptors, or more specifically, the CB1 and CB2 receptors. After you consume the cannabinoids, these receptors are the ones that affect the production of the brain’s chemical releases, such as the release of dopamine. The released dopamine is part of the reason why cannabis users feel euphoria, energy, and other positive feelings after smoking weed. 

THC: The Star of All Cannabinoids

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is one of the main cannabinoids in the marijuana plant. It produces the well-known psychoactive effects marijuana users are after by attaching itself to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC has a similar chemical structure to another chemical found in the brain called anandamide. Because of the similar structure, the body allows THC to alter the communication in the brain which results in the effects we get after weed consumption.

CBD: The Ally of THC

Another cannabinoid that’s widely used in medical treatments is the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD). Contrary to THC, CBD produces sedative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and anti-nausea effects on users. It’s often used as a treatment option for conditions such as:

  • Epilepsy;
  • Anxiety;
  • Chronic pain;
  • Autoimmune disorders;
  • Eating disorders.

CBD is even used as a way to calm the body down after consuming high doses of the cannabinoid THC. As you can see, CBD is more therapeutic which is why it’s used more and more in medical as well as skincare products.

Terpenes: The Compounds That Give Weed Its Flavor and Aroma

Other than the cannabinoids, terpenes are also important compounds in the cannabis plant as they create the aroma that people associate with cannabis strains. Apart from the physical appearance of weed, these aromatic compounds often make it easier for users to identify weed strains, so they can differentiate between cannabis Sativa, cannabis Indica, and hybrid strains.

Terpenes also affect the nature of the high you get after consuming weed, and together with cannabinoids, they also regulate the functions in the body. Since cannabinoids affect the immune system, they work as an immunosuppressant and keep the body in balance (homeostasis), which is why they’re used as a treatment option for a lot of people with autoimmune disorders.

Other Important Cannabinoids and Cannabinoid Compounds

Even though THC and CBD are the most important cannabinoids in weed, there are 66 cannabinoids found in weed in total. Most of these cannabinoids are closely related and some even produce similar effects on users. We can separate these cannabinoids into roughly 10 groups of related cannabinoids:

  1. 9- Tetrahydrocannabinol (9-THC) – 9 cannabinoids;
  2. 8- Tetrahydrocannabinol (8-THC) – 2 cannabinoids;
  3. Cannabichromene (CBC) – 5 cannabinoids;
  4. Cannabicyclol (CBL) – 3 cannabinoids;
  5. Cannabidiol (CBD) – 7 cannabinoids;
  6. Cannabielsoin (CBE) – 5 cannabinoids;
  7. Cannabigerol (CBG) – 6 cannabinoids;
  8. Cannabinidoiol (CBND) – 2 cannabinoids;
  9. Cannabinol (CBN) – 7 cannabinoids;
  10. Cannabitiol (CBT) – 9 cannabinoids;
  11. Miscellaneous – 11 cannabinoids. 

However, these cannabinoids need to be activated to produce their effects. Before the decarboxylation process, these cannabinoids have their acidic precursors. For example, THC’s precursor is THCA or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, and CBD’s precursor is CBDA or cannabidiolic acid. After the weed is decarbed (heated up), it loses one carboxyl group and converts its cannabinoid acids into cannabinoids.

How Many Chemicals Are In Weed?

According to research from Americans for Safe Access, cannabis has 483 chemical constituents. While the primary compounds are the 66 cannabinoids, other constituents in the plant material include:

  • Nitrogenous compounds (27);
  • Amino acids (18);
  • Proteins (3);
  • Glycoproteins (6);
  • Enzymes (2);
  • Sugars and related compounds (34);
  • Hydrocarbons (50);
  • Simple alcohols (7);
  • Aldehydes (13);
  • Ketones (13);
  • Simple acids (21)
  • Fatty acids (22);
  • Simple esters (12);
  • Lactones (1);
  • Steroids (11);
  • Terpenes (120);
  • Non-cannabinoid phenols (25);
  • Flavonoids (21);
  • Vitamins (1) [Vitamin A];
  • Pigments (2);
  • Elements (9).

Most of these compounds can be found in other plants and aren’t relevant pharmacologically, but some of them can have huge effects on the treatment and curing of several medical decisions which have been mentioned above.

What Are the Health Effects of Marijuana Use?

Even though cannabis is widely used medicinally, the health effects of marijuana smoke on cannabis users may be more serious than what was previously believed. Tobacco cigarettes and tobacco smoke has been researched for decades and most of their side effects are widely known. Unfortunately, recent studies are comparing cannabis smoke to tobacco smoke. 

A 2020 study done by the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and the University of Alberta in Canada found that there are 110 potentially toxic chemicals found in cannabis compared to 173 which are found in tobacco smoke. When they compared the chemicals, researchers discovered that cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke have up to 69 compounds in common. According to the study, these compounds “are known to cause negative health effects through carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, or other toxic mechanisms.”

According to the researchers, these studies provide “important information for public health and communication of the risk related to exposure to such materials,” which is why they’re crucial to further understand the cannabis plant and all its effects.

Other Side Effects of the Cannabis Plant

The coronavirus pandemic has proved how important it is to take care of our respiratory system. However, as a result of the isolation policies in a lot of the countries over the world, people have turned to substance abuse, and cannabis users have significantly increased in numbers according to studies in the Netherlands and Canada

Another concern when it comes to the effects of marijuana on public health is whether cannabis can lead to lung cancer. The research is inconclusive, and at this moment there isn’t enough evidence that would suggest that cannabis consumption is related to lung cancer.


Weed is the most widely used drug around the world and people consume it in joints, bongs, and also as hashish, cannabutter, cannabis oil, tinctures, dabs, edibles, moon rocks, and other cannabis products. They use it both recreationally and as medical marijuana to treat conditions like chronic pain, autoimmune disease, epilepsy, and other illnesses

This is all possible as a result of the cannabinoids present in weed which affect the immune system, brain, and other systems in the body to maintain homeostasis. Cannabinoids are only 66 of 483 chemical compounds present in cannabis, and pending legalization laws and research will continue to uncover the secrets of this potent plant.

Finally, if you have a health problem, you should consult with your healthcare provider before you start taking marijuana or any other medicine as a treatment.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.