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Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need To Know

Published 04.15.22

Is marijuana the same thing as cannabis?

People often use the words “cannabis” and “marijuana” interchangeably, but they don’t mean exactly the same thing.

What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a group of substances found in the cannabis plant.

What are the main cannabinoids?

The main cannabinoids are THC and cannabidiol (CBD).

How many cannabinoids are there?

Besides THC and CBD, more than 100 other cannabinoids have been identified.

Has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved cannabis or cannabinoids for medical use?

The FDA has not approved the cannabis plant for any medical use. However, the FDA has approved several drugs that contain individual cannabinoids.

Is it legal for dietary supplements or foods to contain THC or CBD?

The FDA has determined that products containing THC or CBD cannot be sold legally as dietary supplements. Foods to which THC or CBD has been added cannot be sold legally in interstate commerce. Whether they can be sold legally within a state depends on that state’s laws and regulations.

Are cannabis or cannabinoids helpful in treating health conditions?

Drugs containing cannabinoids may be helpful in treating certain rare forms of epilepsy, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy, and loss of appetite and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS. In addition, some evidence suggests modest benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids for chronic pain and multiple sclerosis symptoms. Cannabis isn’t helpful for glaucoma. Research on cannabis or cannabinoids for other conditions is in its early stages. The following sections summarize the research on cannabis or cannabinoids for specific health conditions.

Pain

Helping To Decrease Opioid Use

Anxiety

Epilepsy

Glaucoma

HIV/AIDS Symptoms

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Movement Disorders Due to Tourette Syndrome

Multiple Sclerosis

Nausea and Vomiting Related to Cancer Chemotherapy

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Sleep Problems

Are cannabis and cannabinoids safe?

Several concerns have been raised about the safety of cannabis and cannabinoids:

Can CBD be harmful?

There’s evidence that CBD may be harmful to some people. Before the FDA approved Epidiolex (a purified CBD product) as a drug, studies were done to evaluate its effectiveness and safety. Some participants in these studies had side effects (mostly diarrhea or sleepiness), and some developed abnormalities on tests of liver function. In some instances, study participants had to discontinue Epidiolex because of liver problems. Epidiolex also interacted with some of the other drugs these people were taking. Problems like these can be managed in patients taking Epidiolex because they’re using CBD under medical supervision. People who use CBD on their own don’t have this kind of protection. They may not even know how much CBD they’re taking. A 2017 analysis of 84 CBD products sold online found that 26 percent contained substantially less CBD than the label indicated, and 43 percent contained substantially more.

Research Funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)

Several NCCIH-funded studies are investigating the potential pain-relieving properties and mechanisms of action of substances in cannabis, including minor cannabinoids (those other than THC) and terpenes (substances in cannabis that give the plant its strain-specific properties such as aroma and taste). The goal of these studies is to strengthen the evidence regarding cannabis components and whether they have potential roles in pain management. NCCIH is also supporting other studies on cannabis and cannabinoids, including:

More To Consider

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