Last Updated on
You may have realized that different cannabis-related terms sometimes seem to be very similar. For instance, the terms cannabinoids, phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids are spelled and pronounced very similarly. In fact, these terms are often used incorrectly and interchangeably.
To clarify – while these three terms are indeed related, they are not the same.
So what is the difference between phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids then? That is exactly what we will discuss in this article, but before we dive into the nitty gritty, it’s important to fully understand what exactly cannabinoids are.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis that gives the plant the medical and recreational properties that you experience when ingesting, smoking, or applying cannabis-infused topicals to the skin. The cannabinoids are activated when consumed and interact with the special cannabinoid receptors found in our endocannabinoid system to deliver the benefits throughout the body.
Cannabinoids are created by a three-step process that involves binding, prenylation, and cyclization called biosynthesis. Within the trichome cell is an enzyme that catalyzes a series of different chemical reactions that produce simple molecules then attaches and passes the transformed molecule to another catalyst to process it into chemical energy.
The most common methods used to take in cannabinoids include smoking cannabis in its original flower form or in a more concentrated way as wax or oil, mixing the compound into edibles, or applying cannabis-infused lotions and oils topically so the CB receptors and skin can absorb the chemical benefits.
Endocannabinoids Versus Phytocannabinoids: The Difference Explained
Cannabinoids can be categorized as endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are internal lipid-based neurotransmitters that travel backwards and work together to engage with a larger signaling network, the endocannabinoid system. They are like your body’s own version of cannabinoids. There are two primary endocannabinoids: anandamide (AEA), the neurotransmitter that is often compared to THC and famously known as the “bliss molecule” and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), the second-most-abundant compound believed to reduce pain by suppressing the immune system and has been known to have psychoactive properties when it binds to specific endocannabinoid receptors.
The endocannabinoid molecules and cannabinoid receptors can be found in nearly every organ in the body and throughout the immune system with a heavy concentration of receptors located in the brain and spinal cord. Through direct and indirect actions, endocannabinoids can modulate and influence physiological systems including inflammation, pain, appetite, memory, metabolism, mood, stress, and sleep.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids that occur naturally in the cannabis plant. They share chemical similarities with cannabinoids and are categorized like any plant-derived natural product with that can interact directly with the body’s cannabinoid receptors, like endocannabinoids.
The phytocannabinoid compounds are highly concentrated in the cannabis plant’s resin. Through the process of decarboxylation, inactive compounds are converted into active compounds — meaning the acidic cannabinoids that are present in the cannabis plant turn into non-acidic cannabinoids to essentially, unlock therapeutic benefits.
Phytocannabinoids can regulate the endocannabinoid system and be extremely beneficial to those who are not producing enough endocannabinoids on their own. Common phytocannabinoids include CBD, CBG, and THC (the decarboxylated molecule form of the acidic counterparts, CBDA, CBGA, and THCA) which have been effective for treating pain and stress.
Different Types of Phytocannabinoids
The cannabis plant contains dozens of active cannabinoids but the cannabinoids we commonly associate with include: