Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that are found in the cannabis plant. There are more than 100 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, but the two most well-known are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis responsible for the feeling of being “high” that users experience. CBD is non-psychoactive and is often used for its potential health benefits.

How do cannabinoids work in the body?

Cannabinoids work in the body by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a complex network of receptors, neurotransmitters, and enzymes that helps regulate a variety of functions in the body, including pain, mood, appetite, memory, and immune function.

There are two primary types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are predominantly located in the brain and central nervous system. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are found in the immune system and other peripheral tissues.

When a cannabinoid molecule binds to a cannabinoid receptor, it can either activate or inhibit the receptor, depending on the type of cannabinoid and the specific receptor it binds to. This interaction can trigger various effects in the body, such as releasing neurotransmitters or activating other signaling pathways.

Difference between THC and CBD

THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is a psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana use. THC acts on cannabinoid receptors in the brain and can produce various effects, including altered mood, changes in perception, and impaired cognitive function.

CBD (cannabidiol) is non-psychoactive and does not produce a “high.” Unlike THC, CBD does not bind directly to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, but it may interact with these receptors in a way that modulates their activity and reduces the psychoactive effects of THC.

Some studies have suggested that CBD may have various potential therapeutic effects, including reducing anxiety, inflammation, and pain. It has also been studied for its potential to reduce seizure frequency in people with epilepsy.

Recreational and medical effects of cannabinoids

The effects of cannabinoids can vary depending on the specific cannabinoid, the dosage, and the method of administration. Being highly variable, the effects may also be different for different people. Some common effects of cannabinoids include:

Alterations in mood. Some cannabinoids, such as THC, can produce a feeling of euphoria or relaxation. Others, like CBD, may have a more calming or anxiolytic effect.

Changes in appetite. THC is known to increase appetite and can cause the “munchies”.

Altered perception. Cannabinoids can affect sensory perception and alter how users perceive time, space, and their surroundings.

Changes in cognition. Cannabinoids can affect memory, attention, and concentration, and may impair cognitive function.

Anxiolytic. Some research suggests that CBD may have anxiolytic effects and may be effective in reducing anxiety, particularly in people with a social anxiety disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.

Pain relief. Some cannabinoids, such as CBD, may have analgesic properties and can effectively reduce chronic pain.

Anti-inflammatory effects. Some cannabinoids, such as CBD, may have anti-inflammatory effects and be useful in treating inflammatory conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Neuroprotective effects. Some studies have suggested that cannabinoids may have neuroprotective effects and may be useful in treating neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Withdrawal suppression. THC and CBD have been studied for their potential to reduce the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms and to reduce the risk of relapse in people with substance use disorders.

Antiepileptic. CBD has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in some people with epilepsy, particularly those with Dravet syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis complex.

Risks and side effects of using cannabinoids

Like any substance, the use of cannabinoids can be associated with certain risks and side effects. Some common side effects of cannabinoid use include:

  • Dry eyes
  • Dry mouth or cottonmouth
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia or hallucinations
  • Short-term memory impairment and may affect cognitive function
  • Dependence

Legal status of cannabinoids in different countries and states

The legal status of cannabinoids varies widely around the world. In some countries and states, the use of cannabis and its derivatives, including THC and CBD, is legal for recreational and/or medical purposes, while in others, it is illegal.

In the United States, the legal status of cannabis and cannabinoids is complex and can vary by state. Currently, the use of cannabis and THC is legal for recreational purposes in 15 states and the District of Columbia, while medical cannabis is legal in 36 states. CBD is legal in all 50 states, but the specific regulations and requirements for its use can vary by state.

In Canada, the use of cannabis for recreational purposes has been legal nationwide since 2018, and medical cannabis has been legal since 2001.

In many European countries, the use of cannabis and its derivatives for medical purposes is legal, but the laws surrounding recreational use vary widely. In some countries, such as the Netherlands and Spain, the possession and sale of small amounts of cannabis are tolerated, while in others, such as the United Kingdom and France, possession and use of cannabis are illegal.