Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the U.S., but few people understand what cannabinoids are or how they interact with the body.
Cannabinoids: The Active Ingredients in Marijuana
Cannabinoids are the active compounds found in the cannabis plant—more commonly known as marijuana—that act on the brain to cause effects that include the feeling of being high.
Marijuana has over 500 natural compounds, around 85 of which are cannabinoids. The four most common cannabinoids are:
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is responsible for the feeling of being high
Cannabidiol, or CBD, which reduces pain and calms the nervous system
Cannabinol, or CBN, which results from the oxidation of THC when it’s exposed to air and carries a mild psychoactive effect that leads to drowsiness
Cannabigerol, or CBG, which is the building block of CBD and THC
Cannabinoids that aren’t psychoactive still have an impact on the overall effects of marijuana.
How Cannabinoids Affect the Brain
The endocannabinoid system in the brain was named for the cannabis plant. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for functions such as:
This brain system produces its own cannabinoids, which activate receptors in various parts of the body. THC activates CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors in the immune system to slow your reaction time, cause memory problems and impair judgment.
An increasing number of man-made chemicals known as synthetic cannabinoids are either sprayed on dried plant material and sold as “herbal incense” that can be smoked to produce a high or sold as a liquid that is vaporized and inhaled. These drugs are continually finding their way into head shops across the country despite crackdowns by law enforcement.
While these substances are commonly called synthetic marijuana, the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that this designation is misleading due to their powerful and highly unpredictable effects. Marketed under names like K2, Spice, Black Mamba and Kronic, these cannabinoid compounds are made in laboratories and sold as a legal—but far more dangerous—alternative to marijuana. While many people believe that these synthetic cannabinoids are safe and natural, they can cause life-threatening medical conditions, including seizures and stroke.
Benefits and Health Risks of Cannabinoids
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, marijuana has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and it may have promising effects in treating cancer-related side effects in particular. Many states are moving to legalize it for medical purposes or, in some cases, for recreational use.
However, marijuana abuse carries a number of negative long-term health effects. Teenagers who engaged in heavy marijuana use lost an average of eight IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which also cites lung problems, an increased risk of heart attack and the onset or worsening of mental disorders like anxiety and depression as other long-term effects of marijuana use.
Help for Cannabinoid Addiction
If you abuse marijuana chronically and have found that you’re unable to stop despite the desire to do so, you may have developed an addiction—despite the common misconception that marijuana is non-addictive. Willpower alone is rarely enough to overcome an addiction.
A high-quality, holistic drug treatment program can help you quit using marijuana through various therapies that address the complex issues behind the addiction and help you learn to enjoy life without marijuana. Getting help now can reduce your risk of developing marijuana-related health problems and improve your overall quality of life and sense of well-being.