Guide to Cannabinoids: The Differences Between CBD, CBG, CBN and THC

Anyone browsing through CBD products lately has likely come upon some new letter configurations—notably, CBN and CBG. These aren't misprints on the labels, but rather other cannabinoids introduced to the market in the last couple of years in the wake of CBD's massive explosion in popularity. For the uninitiated, CDB is cannabidiol, CBN is cannabinol, and CBG is cannabigerol.

Chris Walsh, the CEO and president of Marijuana Business Daily, recently told Newsweek that "interest from both the industry and consumers is absolutely growing and you're going to see a bigger focus on these other cannabinoids going forward." Like CBD, these lesser-known compounds from cannabis plants reportedly offer wellness benefits, but it's important to know what suits each individual's needs.

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Cannabis plants are seen growing under artificial lights in this photo taken at the Green Pearl Organics marijuana dispensary in Desert Hot Springs, California on January 1, 2018. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty

Before delving into a "Know your cannabinoids" guide, the uninitiated should at least know that these chemicals and products containing them are not FDA-approved. As Walsh noted, there's also only a limited amount of research into the latest cannabinoids being sold by manufacturers. Even research into the widely-available CBD is ongoing by the FDA, and thus far the agency has only approved one drug (Epidiolex) that contains a high concentration of CBD for the treatment of seizures. Therefore, the wellness claims about these products are based on anecdotal use and studies typically done by manufacturers' labs. As such, one should always exercise caution with these products and consult a doctor before trying any of these supplements.

What exactly are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are simply the compounds found in cannabis. There is a huge range of estimates as to how many cannabinoids are in cannabis, since most exist at such low levels that scientists have historically had difficulty detecting them. Most estimates put the number of cannabinoids at somewhere over hundred, including some that state there are more than 140. With most still unknown, the main focus over the years has been on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD.


By far the most researched and debated cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol, especially in the chemical compound form of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. The debate, of course, centers on the fact that THC is the principal reason marijuana gets people intoxicated, i.e. "high."

Delta-8 THC has become trendy in the past year, given its availability in hemp, which makes it possibly legal in states where recreational marijuana is illicit. It reportedly offers a relaxing effect similar to its Delta-9 counterpart, though without as much of the "high" effect that some users find too intense. Meanwhile, Delta-10 THC operates on the opposite side, giving a mild "high" and less of the relaxing effects. Consumers may have also come across THCV, which has the intoxicating effect of Delta-9 in larger doses, but its limited quantities in cannabis plants makes it less attractive from a seller's standpoint.

Cannabis that contains higher levels of Delta-9 THC is known as marijuana, while cannabis with trace amounts of it is identified as hemp. While THC does get users high, its reported wide range of health benefits include the simple ease of anxiety to major relief for cancer and AIDS patients. Currently, marijuana is legal for recreational use in 17 U.S. states and for medical use in 36.


Cannabidiol (CBD) grew from a fad into a major industry unto itself, with one recent estimate predicting that CBD sales in the U.S. could reach $1.8 billion by 2022. Its available in large amounts in both marijuana and hemp, and thus easily cultivated, and health claims associated with it include ease of anxiety and movement disorders, and even physical pain when applied topically.

CBD is sold as tinctures, edibles, vaporizer oils, and in ointments. You can still smoke it, too; The company Cannaflower, for one, offers an assortment of high-quality CBD-rich hemp flowers that could easily be mistaken for top-shelf marijuana. More than that, though, businesses have tried adding it to practically every product imaginable: Sandwiches, ice cream, coffee, candles and even clothing have been sold containing CBD. Given its reputation for providing relaxation without any intoxicating effects, the cannabinoid has also become a popular option for nervous dogs who are frightened by thunder and fireworks.

For anyone looking to dip their toe into the cannabinoid world, CBD is widely considered the safest place to start. It's also a cost effective option, and since its become popular enough to result in major competition, there are an endless amount of companies to choose from. Many products available are also third-party lab tested, and the test results are often available to customers on the manufacturer's website or on scannable QR codes on the packaging.

All 50 states have officially legalized the use of hemp-based CBD products. Ten U.S. States forbid marijuana-based CBD products: Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. Even in the hemp-only states, nearly everywhere allows the sale of CBD products containing a trace amount of THC—only Nebraska and Idaho require CBD items to contain zero percent THC concentration.


Since cannabigerol is the parent molecule from which all other cannabis compounds are synthesized—meaning THC, CBD, etc., all start as CBG—it is often called the "mother" of cannabinoids. The exact laws that apply to its sale are murky, though companies generally adhere to the same rules applied to CBD when selling it (and all the cannabinoid supplements on this list, other than THC).

Being hard to extract means many companies haven't invested in producing and selling CBG, but its promise has proven alluring enough for some to begin adding it to their lines. As the "mother," CBG could be more powerful, or at least offer a more comprehensive range of benefits, than other cannabinoids. At the very least, manufacturers believe it has creates a powerful "entourage effect" when combined with CBD. This effect refers to cannabinoids working in conjunction with one another—be it THC and CBD, CBD and CBN, etc.—and enhancing the individual properties of each.

Scientists who have studied cannabis have suggested CBG could be effective in decreasing the effects of inflammatory bowel disease, as well as act as an analgesic, as therapy for psoriasis, and as an antidepressant. Results from a study in January 2020 also found CBG and another minor cannabinoid called CBC both exhibited anti-tumor properties in tests on human gastrointestinal cancer cells.

For anyone looking to buy CBG, reputable companies like Medterra and CBDistillery sell tinctures that combine CBG and CBD, Lazarus Naturals sells a CBG-only isolate oil. (CBDistillery also sells pure CBG isolate powder for buyers to create their topical products or add to food and drinks.) Peak Extracts sells one of the most comprehensive lines of CBG products. Along with CBD offerings, the Oregon-based company sells lotions, ointments, tinctures, and even high-quality chocolates that include CBG, CBD or CBN.


Cannabinol is another mildly psychoactive, nonintoxicating cannabinoid only available in trace amounts in cannabis. However, it also forms when cannabis ages with THC breaking down into CBN. This then makes it easier for sellers to make, and some early studies suggest CBN may be a potent antibacterial agent. Another study in lab mice shows it could be effective in slowing the effects of Lou Gehrig's disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Thus far, though, CBN has earned quite a reputation as a natural sedative. Chase Terwilliger, CEO of Balanced Health Botanicals—the parent company to CBDistillery (which sells a CBN and CBD tincture) and the CBD-enhanced skin care line BOTA—told Newsweek that tests show CBN binds with a particular cannabinoid receptor of the endocannabinoid system "that can help enhance sleep." Because of this, Terwilliger said CBN proved to be an immediate hot seller for CBDistillery and "sold out in their initial launch."

Companies like Blue Forest Farms have also begun introducing CBN into their CBD tinctures, while some businesses like Industrial Hemp Farms sell CBN-only oil. For those who want a little more flavor (and additional cannabinoids), PLUS launched two varieties of gummies last fall specifically designed for helping users sleep. Each flavor (lychee and cloudberry) of the already popular edibles contains a separate combination of CBN, THC and CBD.

For now, these are the most popular cannabinoids. But with the rising popularity of all things cannabis, expect to see more and more options turning up on the market. This is especially true as legality spreads throughout the country and more research and studies are conducted on all the various attributes of the plant and the many compounds it contains. What's already clear, though, is that the sales of CBD and early returns of these other cannabinoids proves consumers are interested in the natural benefits of cannabis beyond just getting high.