Cancer Care: What Are the Differences Between Cannabis and Cannabinoids?
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What is Cannabis?

Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a plant from Central Asia that is grown in many parts of the world today. The Cannabis plant produces a resin containing compounds called cannabinoids. Some cannabinoids are psychoactive (acting on the brain and changing mood or consciousness). In the United States, Cannabis is a controlled substance and controversially is classified as a Schedule I agent (drugs the government believes carry a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use) along with heroin and LSD. In what many scientists and medical professionals consider to be illogical, far more dangerous opioids and stimulants (including cocaine and methamphetamine) are classified as Schedule II drugs.

Clinical trials that study medicinal Cannabis in cancer are limited. To do research with Cannabis in the United States, researchers must file an Investigational New Drug (IND) application with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), receive a Schedule I license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and gain approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

By federal law, the possession of Cannabis (marijuana) is illegal in the United States outside of approved research settings. However, a growing number of states, territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. 

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are active chemicals in Cannabis that cause drug-like effects throughout the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system. They are also known as phytocannabinoids. The main active cannabinoid in Cannabis is delta-9-THC. Another active cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD), which may relieve pain and lower inflammation without causing the "high" of delta-9-THC.

Cannabinoids may be useful in treating the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.

Other possible effects of cannabinoids include:

  • Anti-inflammatory activity.

  • Blocking cell growth.

  • Preventing the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors.

  • Antiviral activity.

  • Relieving muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis.

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