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What is Cannabis? | Chemistry, Use Cases, Dosage & Side Effects

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Cannabis, also known as marijuana or weed, is a plant that has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. It contains hundreds of chemical compounds, including the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the non-psychoactive compound cannabidiol (CBD). 

With the increasing legalization and decriminalization of cannabis in many parts of the world, there is a growing interest in understanding its various use cases, potential health benefits, and risks. 

In this article, we will delve into the chemistry of cannabis, its different use cases, dosage, and consumption methods, as well as its potential side effects. By the end of this article, you will have a comprehensive understanding of what cannabis is, how it works, and what you need to know before consuming it.

Chemical Composition 

Legal Status 


d-9-THC, CBD, d-8-THC and cannabinol Schedule I drug None

Cannabis High Level Fact Sheet

If you are considering using cannabis for medical, recreational, or spiritual purposes, it is important to be aware of its chemical composition, how it interacts with our body, and its legal status in the country so that you do not face any legal or health consequences.

Here is everything you need to know before consuming Cannabis:

Cannabis Chemical Composition

Cannabis has a complex chemical composition, with over 400 chemical compounds identified in the plant. The most well-known compounds are d-9-THC, CBD, d-8-THC, and cannabinol. 

Cannabis Legal Status 

Cannabis legal status in the United States is a complex and evolving issue. Under federal law, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that it is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. 

However, many states have passed laws legalizing cannabis for either medicinal or recreational purposes, or both. As of February 2023, 37 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have legalized medical marijuana, while 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use. 

Cannabis Clinical Data

Cannabis is not available as a prescription drug in the United States, but several cannabinoid-based drugs, such as dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet), have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of certain medical conditions. Normally in streets it is known by many names, including, marijuana, weed, pot, and ganja. 

Cannabis is considered a psychoactive substance because it contains delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a compound that interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system and produces a range of effects on the brain and behavior. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which can lead to alterations in mood, perception, and consciousness. 

Cannabis Use Cases:

Marijuana, or cannabis, is a plant based psychoactive substance that has been used for various purposes for thousands of years. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the use of cannabis for various reasons, including medical, performance enhancement, and recreational use. 

Let’s explore each of these use cases in more detail.


One of the most well-known and researched use cases for cannabis is medical use. Marijuana has been used to alleviate a wide range of medical conditions, such as chronic pain, inflammation, seizures, and anxiety. The active compounds in marijuana, such as THC and CBD, interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating pain, mood, and immune function.

For example, medical cannabis has been shown to be effective in reducing nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. It has also been found to reduce spasticity and muscle spasms in people with multiple sclerosis. In some cases, medical cannabis has even been used to replace or reduce the use of opioids, which can be highly addictive and have numerous side effects.

Performance Enhancement: 

Another use case for cannabis is as a performance-enhancing substance. Although it may seem counterintuitive, many athletes and fitness enthusiasts use marijuana to enhance their performance in various ways.

One way in which cannabis can enhance performance is by reducing anxiety and stress. This can help athletes stay focused and calm during competition or training. Additionally, marijuana has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce pain and promote recovery after intense workouts or injuries.

However, it’s important to note that marijuana use can also have negative effects on performance, such as impaired coordination and reaction time. As such, athletes should be cautious when using cannabis and should consult with a healthcare provider before doing so.


Perhaps the most well-known use case for cannabis is recreational use. Many people use marijuana simply for the enjoyment of the psychoactive effects it produces. THC, the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana, can produce feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception of time and space.

However, it’s important to note that recreational marijuana use can also have negative effects, such as impaired judgment and increased risk of accidents or injuries. Additionally, long-term use of marijuana can lead to drug addiction and negative changes in brain function.

Cannabis dosages by form and strength:

When it comes to using cannabis, understanding dosages is crucial. The amount and strength of cannabis you consume can greatly affect the experience you have, and it’s important to be informed about different forms and strengths of cannabis products. 

Forms of Cannabis:

Cannabis is available in several forms, including:

  • Flower: This is the most common form of cannabis and is sold in its natural, dried state. It is typically consumed by smoking or vaporizing.
  • Edibles: These are cannabis-infused foods and beverages, such as gummies, brownies, and drinks. They take longer to take effect but can produce longer-lasting effects.
  • Concentrates: These are highly concentrated forms of cannabis, such as wax or shatter, that are consumed by vaporizing or dabbing.
  • Topicals: These are cannabis-infused creams, balms, and lotions that are applied directly to the skin.

Strengths of Cannabis:

The strength of cannabis is determined by the amount of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, that is present. The strength of cannabis products can vary widely, even within the same form. Some of the most common strengths of cannabis products include:

  • Low-THC: These products contain less than 0.3% THC and are often used for medical purposes.
  • Medium-THC: These products contain between 10-15% THC and are commonly used for recreational purposes.
  • High-THC: These products contain more than 20% THC and are known for producing strong psychoactive effects.

Remember to always start with a low dose and gradually increase as needed to avoid the risk of cannabis overdose.

Cannabis Side Effects:

While cannabis has many potential benefits, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects and risks associated with its use.

Common Side Effects on Cannabis:

Here are some common side effects of cannabis use that almost every cannabis user has reported:

  • Dry mouth
  • Red eyes due to the dilation of blood vessels in the eyes
  • Increased appetite
  • Impaired memory and concentration

Serious Side Effects on Cannabis:

Some relatively serious side effects of cannabis use are:

  • Impaired coordination
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia or psychosis
  • Respiratory problems (coughing, wheezing, and lung infections)
  • increase heart rate and blood pressure

Cannabis Long Term Effects:

Using cannabis for prolonged periods can result in

  • Addiction: Long-term cannabis use can lead to addiction, with some individuals experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit.
  • Cognitive impairment: Using cannabis for a long time can result in cognitive impairment, such as decreased memory and attention span.
  • Respiratory problems: Long-term cannabis use can increase the risk of respiratory problems, such as chronic bronchitis and lung cancer.
  • Developmental issues: Cannabis use during adolescence can have negative effects on brain development, including a decreased IQ and increased risk of psychiatric disorders.

Cannabis Addiction: 

While many people use cannabis without developing any significant problems, some individuals may become addicted to it. Cannabis addiction is a pattern of compulsive use of the drug despite negative consequences, including impairment of cognitive functioning, difficulty in relationships, and occupational or educational problems. 

Although cannabis addiction is less severe than other types of substance abuse, it can still have a significant impact on a person’s physical and mental health, and it is essential to recognize and address cannabis addiction promptly.

Types of Drug Treatment for Cannabis Addiction

Cannabis addiction is a significant issue for many people, and there are various types of drug treatments available to help individuals overcome this addiction. Some of the most common drug treatments for cannabis addiction include:

  • Behavioral therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) are commonly used to treat cannabis addiction. These therapies help individuals identify the underlying causes of their addiction and develop coping mechanisms to deal with triggers.
  • There is currently no medication approved by the FDA to treat cannabis addiction, but some medications are used off-label to manage symptoms of withdrawal and cravings, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and sleep aids.
  • Contingency management is a behavioral therapy that involves providing incentives for positive behaviors such as drug abstinence. It can be an effective way to motivate individuals to stay sober.
  • Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Marijuana Anonymous (MA) can provide individuals with a sense of community and support while they work to overcome their addiction.
  • Inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs provide individuals with comprehensive treatment programs that include therapy, medication, and support. Inpatient programs typically provide more intensive treatment, while outpatient programs offer flexibility and the ability to continue daily routines.

It’s important to note that not all treatment options work for everyone, and the most effective treatment approach may vary depending on the individual’s needs and circumstances. It’s crucial to seek professional help and work with a healthcare provider to determine the most suitable treatment plan.

Cannabis Withdrawal:  

Cannabis withdrawal refers to the collection of physical and psychological symptoms that occur when a person who has been using cannabis stops or significantly reduces their consumption. While cannabis is often considered to be a relatively safe drug, chronic use can lead to physical and psychological dependence, and withdrawal symptoms can occur in some individuals.

Withdrawal symptoms for cannabis can vary in severity and duration, and may include both physical and psychological symptoms such as headaches, sweating, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, tremors, and shakiness. 

Insomnia and sleep disturbances are also common during withdrawal. Individuals may experience a loss of appetite, resulting in weight loss, and they may feel fatigued and lethargic. Difficulty concentrating is also common during withdrawal, and individuals may experience strong cravings for cannabis.

These symptoms typically begin within the first few days after stopping cannabis use, and may last for several weeks. While cannabis withdrawal is not life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable and may make it difficult for individuals to stop using the drug.

Commonly Seen Cannabis Drug Combinations: 

Cannabis is often used in combination with other drugs, and while some people may use these combinations for medical or recreational purposes, it’s important to note that they can be dangerous and may have unpredictable effects. 

Some commonly seen cannabis drug combinations include cannabis and alcohol, which can lead to increased impairment, cognitive dysfunction, and the risk of accidents and injuries. Cannabis and ketamine are also commonly seen, and while some people may use cannabis to manage pain or reduce the negative side effects of opioid use, this combination can lead to increased sedation, respiratory depression, and other adverse effects. 

Cannabis and benzodiazepines, like Valium or Xanax, are sometimes used together to manage anxiety, but this combination can lead to increased sedation, respiratory depression, and other adverse effects. 

Lastly, cannabis and stimulants like crack, cocaine or amphetamines are sometimes combined to reduce the negative side effects of stimulant use, but this combination can lead to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and other adverse health effects. It’s essential to speak with a healthcare professional before combining any drugs, including cannabis, to minimize the risk of adverse effects and other consequences.

Cannabis Facts and Statistics:

Here are some facts and statistics about cannabis:

  • Cannabis is one of the most commonly used psychoactive drugs in the US, with an estimated 61 million (21%) people using cannabis in 2021.
  • In a 2019 survey, almost 48 million Americans (18% of the population) have used cannabis at least once in their lifetime.
  • The legal status of cannabis varies widely around the world, with some countries legalizing it for medical or recreational use, while others maintain strict prohibition laws.
  • Cannabis use disorder, a condition characterized by compulsive use despite negative consequences, affects an estimated 9% of users.
  • Cannabis use is particularly prevalent among young people. In the United States, for example, cannabis use is most common among 18-25 year-olds, with approximately 30% of this age group reporting past-month use.
  • The cannabis industry is rapidly expanding, with global sales estimated to reach $47.6 billion by 2023.

Cannabis History and Cultural Impact: 

Cannabis has a long and complex history that spans cultures and continents. The use of cannabis for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes dates back thousands of years, with evidence of its use found in ancient China, India, and Egypt. The plant was originally used for its fiber, which was used to make clothing, paper, and other products.

The psychoactive properties of cannabis were discovered in the 19th century, and the first isolated cannabinoid, THC, was identified in the 1960s. The recreational use of cannabis became popular in the 20th century, particularly among counterculture groups in the United States, and cannabis played a prominent role in the music, art, and literature of the time.

In the United States, cannabis was criminalized in the early 20th century, with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937. The War on Drugs, launched by President Nixon in the 1970s, intensified the criminalization of cannabis and led to widespread arrests and incarceration for cannabis-related offenses.

Despite its legal status, cannabis remained a popular drug, and in recent years, there has been a growing movement to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use. In the United States, for example, 36 states have legalized cannabis for medical use, while 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use.

Cannabis has had a significant cultural impact, with numerous films, books, and songs referencing the drug. The stoner comedy genre, which emerged in the 1970s, features films that celebrate cannabis use, including Dazed and Confused, Pineapple Express, Up in Smoke, and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.

There have also been famous cases related to cannabis use, such as the arrest and trial of musician and activist Bob Marley for cannabis possession in Jamaica in 1968. In the United States, the case of Ross Ulbricht, who founded the online drug marketplace Silk Road, brought attention to the use of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the cannabis industry.

Finally, cannabis has been associated with numerous personalities, from musicians like Bob Marley and Snoop Dogg to politicians like former US President Barack Obama, who has admitted to using cannabis in his youth. The impact of cannabis on popular culture and society is undeniable, and it remains a topic of debate and discussion in many countries around the world.

Bottom Line: Cannabis in the United States 

Cannabis remains a complex and controversial issue in the United States. While the drug is legal for medical or recreational use in many states, it remains illegal at the federal level. This has led to confusion and uncertainty for both users and businesses involved in the cannabis industry.

While the legalization of cannabis has brought many benefits, including increased access to medical cannabis for patients and reduced incarceration rates for cannabis-related offenses, it has also raised concerns about potential health risks and societal impacts.

That’s why it is important to be aware of the health risks caused by cannabis use and seek treatment if you or someone you know is dealing with cannabis abuse.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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