How does cannabis work?

The hundreds of chemical compounds in cannabis are known as cannabinoids.   Cannabinoids are the organic compounds that are found in the cannabis plant such as THC, CBD, Terpenes and Flavonoids.  Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD adhere to your Endocannabinoid System (ECS) which is like a network of receptors that run throughout your body.  When THC and CBD interact with the ECS system, the user gets a "high" (from THC) or experiences relaxation and lessening of inflammation (from CBD).  So that is why CBD is so popular.  It battles inflammation naturally and the user does not get high.  And THC is popular because some people enjoy the feeling of euphoria or pain relief with very few to no side effects.    

Let’s break cannabinoids down a bit more:

  • THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical compound that gets you high – it attaches to an element in your brain and surrounds the tissues that impact your perceptions.  It is helpful for pain management, sleeplessness, appetite stimulation, and relaxation.  

  • CBD (Cannabidiol), the chemical compound found in the stalks,  flowers, stems, resin, and seeds of cannabis plants, has an analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties that occur without making the user high.  For aches and pains, CBD attacks the inflammation and allows us to relax and sleep thereby letting the body heal itself.  Like ibuprofen and Motrin, CBD reduces inflammation but it does so naturally and with no known long term consequences.  Commercial analgesics, on the other hand, can be taxing on the stomach and liver over the long term.  In some states, like Alabama, medical cannabis is limited to CBD only.

  • Hemp oil (known as CBD oil) comes from pressing hemp stalks, stems, flower, seeds and resin and gathering the oil. It will not get you high.  Some CBD products only contain oil from the seeds and are not considered as effective as hemp/CBD oil that uses the whole plant.  So do not confuse hemp oil with hemp seed oil; hemp seed oil is more like a good olive oil and contains very minor amounts of CBD.  You can order CBD/Hemp oil products and have them shipped to your home anywhere in the US. This hemp, as defined in the Farm Bill of 2014, contains less than 0.3% THC and is known as “industrial hemp.”

  • Terpenes are the oils in cannabis that give it a distinct smell, such as mint, lemon, pine or mushrooms.  This is especially important in cooking as some CannaCooks and CannaChefs like to pair particular cannabis strains with certain dishes.  They can also mask or channel the pungent odor of cannabis so that a diner concentrates on the food—not the pot.

  • Flavonoids are the aromatic molecules that contribute to the overall color, flavor, and smell of cannabis. Scientists have discovered over 5,000 different flavonoids!

Technically, hemp, cannabis, and marijuana are not different.  Hemp is cannabis and marijuana…and marijuana is cannabis and hemp.  But hemp is only one type of cannabis and contains minor or trace amounts of THC.  Marijuana is just another word for cannabis but where cannabis is the more academic term that includes the entire family of plants, marijuana is most often associated with the type of cannabis that gets you high.    

View the status of cannabis legalization across the US.