What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is a type of flowering plant in the family Cannabaceae. The Cannabis plant is a tall blossoming plant with a firm upright stem, isolated by serrated leaves and glandular hairs. Historically, the entire cannabis plant was used by various cultures to fill a wide variety of needs. However, for medicinal purposes our focus is primarily on the cannabis flowers.

Cannabis leaves and blossoms are coated with trichomes, which are small organs of resinous oil containing cannabinoids and terpenes. It’s these cannabinoids and terpenes of the plant which give the physical and psychoactive effects that many people find beneficial.

Cannabinoids and terpenes are found in each strain of cannabis, but with varying types and quantities. Cannabinoids and terpenes are essentially the chemicals that provide relief to patients by embedding themselves into special receptors in the tissues and cells of the human body.[2] These special receptors are part of what is known as the endocannabinoid system. This mechanism, which helps modulate many bodily functions including appetite, sleep, anxiety level, and cognition, is closely linked to the nervous and immune systems. In fact, specific cannabinoids target particular types of receptors situated on the surface of cells.[2] There are more than 85 sorts of cannabinoids, many of which have documented medicinal value.[3]

Types of Cannabinoids

There are numerous types of cannabinoids, but the two most common and widely known are Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC and Cannabidiol or CBD. Both cannabinoids can be found in the resin of the cannabis plant. Both substances collaborate with the cannabinoid receptors present in the human body, and the effects achieved by these compounds are radically different as outlined below. Because of these distinctions, CBD is more commonly used as a medicinal treatment than THC.


THC is the most common cannabinoid component of the cannabis plant and is the primary agent responsible for creating the “high” feeling. Other symptoms or sensations including relaxation, altered senses or fatigue, and hunger are generally associated with this part of the cannabis plant. THC works by mimicking the impacts of anandamide, a neurotransmitter naturally produced by the human body to help regulate eating and sleeping habits, as well as the perception of pain. Research studies have indicated that this cannabinoid may be able to help treat the side effects of chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, AIDS and spinal injury.[5]


CBD is the abbreviation for cannabidiol, which is the second most common cannabinoid after THC as measured by average volume. Research has shown CBD to have anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties without the psychoactive effects that THC can create.[1] Studies have indicated that CBD may reduce anxiety and paranoia, boost energy, decrease inflammation and provide relief from convulsions and nausea.[5] Studies have also shown that CBD may be useful in treating schizophrenia, social anxiety disorder, depression, and some side effects of cancer treatments.[5]


In addition to cannabinoids, terpenes are another important biologically active plant molecule in cannabis. In simple terms, terpenes are the oils that give cannabis plants and flowers their unique aroma. Like cannabinoids, terpenes bind to receptors in the brain and give rise to various effects.[7] Depending on which receptors they react with, different terpenes may help to induce sleep and relax muscles while others reduce stress and elevate mood, or reduce inflammation and create energy.[4]

There are many varieties of products and strains with varying CBD, THC, and terpene doses. Knowing which types best treats your symptoms is a resourceful piece of information to bring to your next dispensary visit. The wheel below is a resource that may help determine which cannabinoids may alleviate each symptom or disease.[3]

[1] Chambers, R. (n.d.). What are High-CBD Cannabis Strains and How Do They Differ from High THC Strains. Retrieved May 16, 2017, from https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/whats-the-deal-with-these-high-cbd-strains
[2] Rabinski, G. (2015, Novemeber 19). Understanding Cannabinoid Receptors: Why Cannabis Affects Humans. Retrieved May 5, 2016 from https://www.massroots.com/learn/what-are-cannabinoid-receptors
[3] Rahn, B. (n.d.). Cannabinoids 101: What Makes Cannabis Medicine? Retrieved May 16, 2017, from https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/cannabinoids-101-what-makes-cannabis-medicine
[4] Terpenes. (n.d.) Retrieved May 16, 2017, from http://www.crescolabs.com/terpenes/
[5] The Difference Between CBD and THC. (2017, April 25). Retrieved May 16, 2017. From http://curavape.com/2017/04/25/the-difference-between-cbd-and-thc/
[6] Tr, L. (2015, October 25). What are Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do? Retrieved May 24, 2017, from http://herb.co/2015/10/25/what-are-canabis-terpenes-and-what-do-they-do/
[7] What Are Cannabis Terpenes and How Do They Affect You?.(2017, February 23) from https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/infographic-what-are-cannabis-terpenes-and-how-do-they-affect-you

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