Updated: Jul 10
Interestingly, phytocannabinoids (the variety of cannabinoid produced by cannabis plants) were discovered nearly a century prior to endocannabinoids (the cannabinoid type manufactured by the human body).
In 1896, a group of British chemists first identified cannabinol, or CBN, by isolating the molecule. This cannabinoid results from both a dedicated acidic precursor (CBNA) and also the lifecycle degradation of the most infamous phytocannabinoid in modern day, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
1896: Cannabinoid CBN discovered
1940: THC + CBD identified
1940: CBN synthesized
1942: THC isolated
1964: THC synthesized
1990: CB1 ECS receptor discovered
1992: Anandamide discovered
2019: CBDP + THCP discovered
While THC is categorized as "strongly psychoactive," CBN is only mildly so. However, because CBN is normally found in only trace amounts in samples of hemp, consumers rarely experience overt psychoactivity from this molecule. When they do, it is often mixed with the psychoactivity resulting from its cousin delta-9 THC, further confusing the issue for patients, consumers, and wellness professionals.
U.S. celebrity chemist Roger Adams (1940)
Roger Adams & Lord Todd
In 1932, several decades following its discovery, the molecular structure of CBN was partially determined by a group of British researchers. In 1940, two separate teams of chemists—one in the United States (Roger Adams) and another in the United Kingdom (Lord Todd)—synthesized CBN. In the same year, Adams first isolated CBD. The acclaimed scientist was even granted a U.S. patent in 1942 for his proprietary method of extracting CBD from hemp oil.
It was also Adams who first identified tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC in 1940, while theorizing that it was the chemical responsible for the psychoactivity of cannabis (referred to as "marijuana" during the period).
It was also Adams who first identified tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC in 1940, while theorizing that it was the chemical responsible for the psychoactivity of cannabis (referred to as "marijuana" during the period). Decades ahead of his time, the celebrated chemist published 27 studies regarding cannabis in the American Journal of Chemistry. However, Adams was never able to isolate the controversial euphoria-causing phytocannabinoid.
First Isolation of THC
Another group of American scientists composed of H. J. Wollner, John Matchett, Joseph Levine, and S. Loewe conducted research based on work published by Adams in 1940. The team produced a study paper in 1942 entitled "Isolation of a Physiologically Active Tetrahydrocannabinol from Cannabis Sativa Resin" that was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
The study documented the first successful isolation of THC by the researchers and served as a pivotal milestone for the coming dearth of cannabinoid research that would endure for more than two decades.
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam
In 1963 through 1965, a group of Israeli scientists led by Raphael Mechoulam isolated and synthesized CBD and THC, renewing international academic interest in the compounds produced by the hemp plant. The pioneering work of Mechoulam and his team led to the discoveries of more than 100 phytocannabinoids, a scientific exploration that continues to this day.
In December 2019, a team of Italian researchers discovered two new phytocannabinoids: Cannabidiphorol (CBDP) and tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP).
In December 2019, a team of Italian researchers discovered two new phytocannabinoids: Cannabidiphorol (CBDP) and tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP). More significantly, the researchers also uncovered an entirely novel category of phytocannabinoid called phorols.