The Science of Marijuana: How It Works in Your Body

The science behind medical cannabis is complicated. Why? The contains up to 150 cannabinoids, 220 terpenes/terpenoids and 20 flavonoids, all of which have different effects when used on their own or combined with each other. This makes cannabis a very versatile medication, but also difficult to figure out.

However, we do know that cannabis is a “pharmacy in a plant” meaning that it can potentially treat a range of common conditions. Learn the science of marijuana and how the plant works in your body in our comprehensive guide. 

The Endocannabinoid System

Before we delve into the science of marijuana, we first need to discuss a little about the human body, namely the . The body produces its own natural versions of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), called endocannabinoids. 

When the body does not produce enough cannabinoids (), or if their production is dysregulated in some other way, inflammation can go haywire, leading to health problems. THC, CBD and other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant help replace these lost cannabinoids, and also have anti-inflammatory effects. This is what makes marijuana medicine. 

Download Free Guide to the ECS

There are two main primary :

The endocannabinoid anandamide targets . THC is anandamide’s mimetic phytocannabinoid, meaning the two compounds have similar properties and behaviors. CB1 receptors were first cloned in 1990.

The enzyme that breaks down anandamide and THC is called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). Regular cannabis users who use THC-rich varieties actually have , meaning more anandamide is available in the body, leading to pleasurable effects.


The endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) is active on both . CB2 receptors were first cloned in 1993. 

Like anandamide, 2-AG plays a pivotal role in pain management, immunity and appetite. It is also the most abundant endocannabinoid found in the body. 

The Compounds in Cannabis

The naturally occurring compounds in cannabis give the plant its therapeutic properties. Among these compounds are phytocannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. 

is the main psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, and directly attaches itself to receptors (CB1 receptors) in the brain. THC is often the cannabinoid found in the highest concentrations in the cannabis plant.

, and could also be useful as an anti-inflammatory, spasticity, antiemetic (nausea/vomiting prevention), appetite stimulant, and a treatment for an overactive bladder. 

THC could be useful for the treatment of chronic pain, neuropathic (nerve) pain, the side-effects of chemotherapy, insomnia, nausea/vomiting, anxiety, tremors and tics. THC could be very useful for the treatment of chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, cancer, nausea, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and insomnia.

The acidic form of THC is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). Acidic cannabinoids are converted into their non-acidic form when they age and are exposed to heat. THCA converts into THC when it loses a carbon dioxide molecule from its chemical structure. This is called decarboxylation, which activates the cannabinoid.

Download Free Guide to THC

is the second most prevalent cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, after THC. It accounts for up to 40% of the plant’s extract. CBD has a physiological effect on the body and can be used as a mood enhancer. While it is not psychoactive in the same way as THC (i.e. it’s not as intoxicating), CBD does have a non-typical form of psychoactivity.

Some say that CBD gives them a broadly relaxed feeling. Less “on-edge” and more emotionally “even”. This relaxing feeling, combined with CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects, could help it treat pain and insomnia.

CBD also calms down inflammation in the brain and nervous system, especially when combined with THC. This can make CBD useful for conditions like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) and neuropathic (nerve) pain.

Download Free Guide to CBD

Minor Cannabinoids

Beyond THC and CBD, cannabis contains minor cannabinoids like THCV, CBG, CBN and CBC. 

In low doses, tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is not psychoactive, has an appetite-suppressing, energizing effect, and blocks THC. In high doses, THCV is psychoactive and combines with THC for even greater psychoactive effects.

THCV can have the following effects:

Download Free Guide to THCV

Cannabigerol (CBG) is sometimes referred to as the “parent cannabinoid”, as the plant converts cannabigerolic acid (CBGA, which is what CBG is before it is exposed to UV light and/or heat) into tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. 

CBG does not make you feel “high” or “stoned.” In fact, . However, CBG does still have a physiological effect. It could be said that CBG is more of a “non-intoxicating” cannabinoid than a non-psychoactive one.

As CBG has the ability to boost anandamide without psychoactive effects, it could be a great alternative or addition to THC. CBG may be very useful in the treatment of chronic pain, cancer and . Low doses of CBG can also beat nausea, but high doses could cause stomach upset.

Download Free Guide to CBG


Unlike many other cannabinoids, cannabinol (CBN) does not stem from cannabigerol (CBG). CBN is a metabolite of THC that is formed as cannabis ages. THC degrades into CBN over time and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.

CBN could be useful for the following:

Download Free Guide to CBN

Cannabichromene (CBC) is the third most prominent cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. The precursor to CBC is cannabichromene carboxylic acid (CBCA), cannabichromenic acid.

CBC is actually thought to be up to , and also has significant anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing, antiviral, anti-tumor and bone-growth-stimulating properties.

Download Free Guide to CBC

Terpenes are a class of hydrocarbon-based compounds that give cannabis its unique smell. You will also see the term terpenoids used. Terpenoids are a class of terpenes, but are .

Cannabinoids and terpenes share the same chemical precursor, geranyl phosphate. This means that terpenes and cannabinoids are linked. Terpenes can control the amount of THC that crosses the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and can influence the way cannabinoids behave in other ways as well.

The cannabis plant contains many different terpenes, with some of the most prominent being alpha- & beta-pinene, limonene, linalool, myrcene, humulene, eucalyptol, trans-nerolidol, terpineol, delta-3 carene and camphene. Another terpene, , is also a cannabinoid as it targets CB2. Beta-caryophyllene is a dietary cannabinoid also found in black pepper, and could be useful in treating inflammation and

To learn more, .

Flavonoids are compounds in the cannabis plant that contribute to its smell and flavor. The cannabis plant contains up to 20 flavonoids. Cannflavins A, B and C are of particular interest because they may be:

Cannflavins are unique to the cannabis plant, and give the plant its unique aroma.

How Cannabis Interacts with the Endocannabinoid System

Cannabis binds to receptors in the endocannabinoid system to exert different effects. Many of these effects are therapeutic. There is evidence that cannabis may interact with the ECS sufficiently to treat:

Other Factors That Influence How Marijuana Works

Marijuana may affect you differently depending on a number of factors. 

At once the most basic and most important factor, dosage strongly influences how cannabis makes you feel. Low doses are recommended for beginners, while experienced users can experiment with different CBD:THC ratios. But there are no hard and fast rules for the general population, and your doctor is best qualified to tell you to take. 

It is also important to note that cannabinoids have biphasic effects. This means that a different dose of the same cannabinoid can have different effects. For example, low doses of THCV are anti-psychoactive and appetite-curbing, as it is a CB1 receptor antagonist. At higher doses, THCV is psychoactive. 

With CBD, low doses are more energizing, whilst high doses can be sedative. THC can treat anxiety in low doses, or prompt it in higher doses. CBG, meanwhile, can treat nausea in low doses, but potentially cause it in higher doses.

Download Our 1 Pager Guide to Dosing Medical Marijuana

Some strains contain more THC and are more psychoactive, while others contain more CBD and don’t cause to to get high. Sativa-dominant strains may make you feel energetic, while indica-rich strains may relax you. But these are generalizations and will affect each individual uniquely. 

It is also a bit of , as the plants are not necessarily chemically distinct from each other. It is therefore more accurate to call different cannabis types “chemical varieties” or “chemovars”. For specific types of cannabis with unique cannabinoid & terpene profiles made by a breeder, the term “cultivar” is often used.

Other Medications

Be careful if using cannabis while taking . Many medications, such as blood thinners and tricyclic antidepressants (e.g. amitriptyline, doxepin), are not recommended for use with cannabis. Cannabis could affect the potency of your prescription medication, even rendering it ineffective. Other drugs, like alcohol, should also be avoided when using cannabis. Those who are taking prescription opioids or sedatives ought to taper their use with the aid of a medical professional if utilizing medical cannabis.

Download Our Pros and Cons of Pot Vs Pills

Body Chemistry

How much do you weigh? How old are you? What is the general state of your health? The answers to these questions all impact . Your body chemistry can also change from day to day, meaning that the same strain and dosage of cannabis will not always have the same effect on you. 

The Bottom Line

Cannabis has been shown in many scientific studies and increasing to be therapeutic. The plant can treat symptoms as mild as minor scarring to those as serious as nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does marijuana affect everyone the same way?

No, marijuana affects everyone differently. Factors such as , strain, other medications you are taking, and your personal body chemistry all impact how cannabis will affect you. Everyone has their own, unique .

Can you get addicted to marijuana?

Cannabis is not generally thought to be addictive in the same way as heroin or cocaine. You can, however, in one session or over a long period of time. Be conservative in your use of cannabis to maximize the health benefits and minimize any associated risks. 

Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) is thought to affect about . However, unlike with opioids, alcohol or sedatives, cannabis withdrawal is not potentially deadly.

Can marijuana harm the body instead of help it?

In extreme quantities or taken with medications that , marijuana can be harmful. Care must also be taken if you suffer from some types of . For example, those with estrogen-positive breast cancer may want to avoid high doses of THC. Those with may also want to be wary of using THC. The best way to use cannabis safely is to get a medical marijuana card with a properly dosed prescription from a physician.

The doctors at Leafwell can help you apply for your medical marijuana card now. Connect with us and schedule a virtual consultation today. 

This content was originally published here.

%d bloggers like this: