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When Were Cannabinoids Discovered?

Exploring the Discovery of Cannabinoids

Over the years, the discovery of cannabinoids has brought to light the vast potential of the cannabis plant. Before the identification of the endocannabinoid system, researchers had already begun unraveling the physiological network through the discovery of various cannabinoids. Let’s delve into the timeline of when some of the most familiar cannabinoids were discovered and the remarkable findings associated with them.

Early Pioneers of Cannabinoid Research

Before individual cannabinoids were isolated, researchers in the early 19th century laid the groundwork for groundbreaking discoveries. Schlesinger in 1840 obtained the first active extract from hemp plants, setting the stage for further experimentation. In 1848, Decourtive conducted an ethanol extract and identified a dark resin, naming it “cannabin”. As research progressed, scientists explored the effects of this substance, leading to crucial advancements in cannabinoid research.

In subsequent years, researchers continued to extract compounds from cannabis plants, ultimately paving the way for the discovery of cannabinoids. Klein and colleagues isolated cannabimines A, B, C, and D, shedding light on the diverse compounds present in the plant.

The Discovery of Key Cannabinoids

Several pivotal discoveries marked significant milestones in cannabinoid research. Here are some key cannabinoids and their respective discovery timelines:

  • CBN (1899): The first cannabinoid to be isolated from cannabis, CBN was discovered by Thomas Wood, W.T. Spivey, and Thomas Easterfield in 1899. This groundbreaking finding highlighted the psychoactive effects of the compound.
  • CBD (1942): Roger Adams isolated CBD in 1942, unveiling the molecular structure of this renowned cannabinoid. Decades later, Raphael Mechoulam further expanded on the understanding of CBD.
  • CBG (1964): Mechoulam and Yechiel Gaoni identified CBGA as a master precursor to various cannabinoids, unraveling the intricate pathways of cannabinoid biosynthesis.
  • THC (1964): Mechoulam and Gaoni’s discovery of THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, revolutionized the understanding of the plant’s effects on the endocannabinoid system.
  • CBC (1966): Cannabichromene, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, was isolated by Mechoulam and Gaoni in 1966, offering insight into the diverse range of compounds present in cannabis.

Looking Ahead

While significant strides have been made in understanding the major cannabinoids found in cannabis, researchers continue to uncover new compounds and their potential effects. With over 100 cannabinoids waiting to be fully elucidated, the future of cannabis science holds promising developments that could shape our understanding of this versatile plant.


[1] Mechoulam, R., & Hanuš, L. (2000, June). A historical overview of chemical research on cannabinoids. [Source]

[2] Wood, T. B., Spivey, W. T. N., & Easterfield, T. H. (1899). III.—Cannabinol. Part I. J. Chem. Soc., Trans., 75(0), 20–36. [Source]

[3] Adams, R., Hunt, M., & Clark, J. H. (1940). Structure of Cannabidiol, a Product Isolated from the Marihuana Extract of Minnesota Wild Hemp. I. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 62(1), 196–200. [Source]

[4] Mechoulam, R., & Shvo, Y. (1963). Hashish—I. Tetrahedron, 19(12), 2073–2078. [Source]

[5] Gaoni, Y., & Mechoulam, R. (1964). Isolation, Structure, and Partial Synthesis of an Active Constituent of Hashish. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 86(8), 1646–1647. [Source]

[6] Mechoulam, R. (1986). Interview with Prof. Raphael Mechoulam, Codiscoverer of THC. International Journal of the Addictions, 21(4–5), 579–587. [Source]

[7] Russo, E. B., & Marcu, J. (2017). Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads. Cannabinoid Pharmacology, 67–134. [Source]

[8] Gaoni, Y., & Mechoulam, R. (1966). Cannabichromene, a new active principle in hashish. Chemical Communications (London), 1, 20. [Source]