Cannabis Facts

What are the active ingredients in marijuana, and what do they do?


Cannabinoids include the over 85 compounds that are uniquely produced by cannabis species of plants. Some, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN), have been shown to be useful in a variety of medical applications, including cancer prevention and treatment, appetite stimulation, and pain control.[1]


THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana and was formerly considered “the” active ingredient. THC has many medicinal benefits, including the potential for relief from pain, nausea and vomiting, asthma attacks, insomnia, PTSD symptoms, and glaucoma symptoms.[2] THC has also demonstrated promising results in a clinical study of patients with Crohn’s disease, with 45% experiencing complete remission and 90% showing clinical improvement after 8 weeks of smoking THC-rich cannabis twice per day.[3]


CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is associated with a wide range of health benefits. Although THC (the ingredient that gets you high) can worsen symptoms in schizophrenia symptoms, a 2012 study showed CBD to be both safer than and as effective as pharmaceutical antipsychotic drugs.[4] CBD may also be useful in treating neuroinflammation, epilepsy, oxidative injury, vomiting and nausea, and anxiety.[5]

Cannabinol is a product of the degradation of THC. As such, it is not found in high quantities in fresh marijuana. It is mildly psychoactive (much less so than THC). Because cannabinol tends to make users sleepy, it is often used as a treatment for insomnia. CBN has both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and it is better absorbed through the skin than THC, making it a superior ingredient in topical applications. To increase CBN and lower THC concentrations in your fresh marijuana, simply leave it out in the light and air to age.[6]

What is the best way to consume medical marijuana?

Essentially, the best way to consume medical marijuana depends upon the condition and preferences of the patient. Some basic information can help you decide what method is best suited to you.


Smoking is the most common and arguably the simplest way of ingesting marijuana. It allows for relatively easy dosage control because the effects set in within minutes. Many health experts caution that this might not be the best method, however, due to the respiratory irritation and disease risk associated with inhaling smoke.


Dr. Sanjay Gupta stated in an interview on Reddit that he believes vaporizing to be the best method of ingesting marijuana as medicine because it activates the medicine without burning it, alleviating the concerns with smoking.[7]


The body processes eaten cannabis differently than smoked cannabis. With eaten cannabis, the THC passes through the liver before it reaches the brain. This both causes the peak effects to come on more slowly when eaten (1-3 hours as opposed to 3-10 minutes) and alters the nature of those effects. The liver changes the form of THC from delta-9 THC to 11-hydroxy THC, which has a more psychedelic effect. Eaten marijuana also stays in the system much longer than smoked marijuana: While a patient typically feels sober within 2-4 hours after smoking, the effects of eating can last 6-10 hours.[8][9]

The distinctive effects of eaten cannabis are beneficial to some patients and disagreeable to others. Many chronic pain sufferers, for example, prefer to eat their medical marijuana because the effects last longer and they can consume less often. Because effects are slower to come on and slower to fade, however, appropriate dosing can be a challenge, particularly for inexperienced users. It is much easier to consume more than needed or desired, and any unpleasant effects that result will take longer to go away.


Cannabis extracts take a variety of forms, which include waxes, shatters, oils, tinctures, and hash. Depending on the type, an extract may be smoked, vaporized, taken orally, or applied topically. The primary benefit of an extract is that it is concentrated medicine capable of delivering effects quickly.

The psychoactivity of cannabis extracts can vary widely. Some preparations contain only non-psychoactive therapeutic ingredients; some contain up to 90% THC; and some provide a more balanced blend of THC and other cannabinoids. Ask for specifics about any extract you are considering so you can find the right one for your symptoms or condition.[10]

Some extracts are made with chemical solvents such as butane or ethanol, while others are made using more natural means. Be sure that any extract you use has been produced in a safe manner that does not leave harmful residue behind.

What does medical marijuana treat?

Medical marijuana has shown to provide benefits for patients with a panoply of ailments, and research is unearthing new information all the time. Some of the most common uses include pain management, cancer treatment, nausea control, inflammation reduction, seizure control, and appetite stimulation. These effects are beneficial to a broad range of patients, including those suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, shingles, and many other conditions. For more information, see this extensive list of conditions treatable with medical marijuana provided by United Patients Group:

Does marijuana kill brain cells?

Current research suggests that contrary to killing brain cells, cannabinoids can actually promote neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) in the hippocampus.[11] The hippocampus is associated with the ability to consolidate memories of events and with spatial navigation. Changes in the hippocampus occur with several debilitating conditions, including schizophrenia, chronic depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.[12]
[1]“Cannabis and Cannabinoids PDQ.” National Cancer Institute, n.d. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[2]“7 Proven Medical Benefits of THC.” Leaf Science. Leaf Science, 2013-2014. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[3] Naftali, T., et al. “Cannabis induces a clinical response in patients with Crohn’s disease: a prospective placebo-controlled study.” American Gastroenterological Association Institute, 2013. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[4] Szalavitz, Maia. “Marijuana Compound Treats Schizophrenia with Few Side Effects: Clinical Trial.” Time. Time, Inc., 30 May 2012. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[5]Fernandez-Ruiz, J. et al. “Cannabidiol for neurodegenerative disorders: important new clinical applications for this phytocannabinoid?” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. The British Pharmalogical Society, Feb 2013. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[6] “The Benefits of Cannabinol – CBN.” Cannabis Resource. Outco Outliers Collective, nd. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[7] “I am Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN. I’m doubling down on the legalization of medical marijuana.” Reddit, Inc., 2014. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[8] Wishnia, Steven. “Smoke vs. Snack: Why Edible Marijuana Is Stronger Than Smoking.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Co., LLC., 13 June 2014. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[9]Walton, Alice G. “Is Eating Marijuana Really Riskier Than Smoking It?” Forbes., LLC, 14 June 2014. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[10] Dorm, Drake. “Whole-Plant Cannabis Concentrates Could Offer Broad Spectrum Benefits.” Medical Jane. Medical Jane, 23 Jan 2014. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[11] Jiang, Wen, et al. “Cannabinoids promote embryonic and adult hippocampus neurogenesis and produce anxiolytic- and antidepressant-like effects.” Journal of Clinical Investigation. American Society for Clinical Investigation. 1 Nov 2005. Web. 15 Jan 2015.

[12] “What Is the Hippocampus?” wiseGEEK. Conjecture Corp., nd. Web. 15 Jan 2015.