Medical cannabis, or medical marijuana, is cannabis and cannabinoids that are prescribed by doctors for their patients. The use of cannabis as a medicine has not been rigorously tested due to production restrictions and other governmental regulations.  Evidence suggests cannabis can: reduce nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, improve appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, and reduce chronic pain and muscle spasms.

The Endocannabinoid System

The human body is regulated in part by a complex group of molecules and receptors known as the endocannabinoid system. This receptor system, thought to be the largest in the body, helps maintain many essential physiological processes including appetite, memory, blood pressure, inflammation, immunity and pain sensation, among others. Scientists believe that the endocannabinoid system first evolved in primitive animals over 600 million years ago.
Cannabinoids and Receptors

The endocannabinoid system is comprised of receptors, which are found throughout cells in the body, and chemicals known as cannabinoids that stimulate them. The human body naturally produces cannabinoids to bind to these receptors, which researchers have classified into two groups: CB1 receptors, found in the nervous system, organs, glands, and connective tissue, and CB2 receptors, which occur in the immune system. The cannabinoids produced internally by the body are known as endocannabinoids.

Cannabinoids bind to CB1 and CB2 receptor sites to help cells maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is the maintenance of a stable internal environment, even if external environmental factors change. Disease, for example, is essentially a result of the body’s inability to achieve homeostasis. Cannabinoids also foster communication and coordination between different types of cells where bodily systems intersect, such as the immune and nervous systems.

Cannabinoids are not only produced by the human body, they are also found in the Cannabis plant. In fact, research on the medical applications of marijuana led scientists to discover the presence of the endocannabinoid system in the human body, which explains where the system gets its name.

When marijuana is consumed, plant-based cannabinoids known as phytocannabinoids stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors to produce an array of effects. Some popular examples include phytocannabinoids’ ability to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells in tumors, reduce inflammation in injuries, and neutralize free radicals that cause aging and impaired healing, much like antioxidants.

Cannabis can be consumed in a variety of ways. The most popular method involves smoking or vaporizing the cured flowers of the female cannabis plant, but many people also eat cannabis infused foods or apply topicals.

So far you’ve learned that both the human body and the Cannabis plant produce cannabinoids which bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system. As you now know, cannabinoids are crucial to some of the body’s most basic physiological processes. To date, scientists have identified over 60 unique cannabinoids in marijuana. Each of these chemical compounds interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system in unique way. Here, we’ll look at the three most well-known cannabinoids that occur in cannabis: THC, CBD, and CBN.
THC is the most well-known cannabinoid found in marijuana. It is psychoactive and thus regulates the plant's influence on mood and behavior. THC is responsible for the “high” or “stoned” feeling reported by patients when consuming cannabis.

THC has been shown to have many therapeutic benefits. THC is particularly effective in mitigating pain, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting and muscle spasticity. It can also help to relieve intraocular pressure in patients with glaucoma. Recent studies suggest that THC may be useful in managing insomnia, fatigue, PTSD and depression.
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