What is Medicinal Cannabis?

Broadly speaking, medicinal cannabis is cannabis prescribed to relieve the symptoms of a medical condition, such as epilepsy. It is important to make the distinction between medicinal cannabis and recreational cannabis. Recreational cannabis is the form of cannabis that people use to get ‘high’.

For some people suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses, conventional medicines do not work, or do not work as effectively as medicinal cannabis. Also, for some patients, conventional medicines may work but cause debilitating side effects that cannabis can help to relieve.

Medicinal cannabis is made from the cannabis sativa plant. The leaves and buds of this plant are also used to make the drug marijuana, which people use to get high. Medicinal cannabis is sometimes referred to as medical cannabis or medical marijuana.

Cannabis has been shown to relieve pain, prevent or reduce vomiting, and it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This is because substances called cannabinoids act on the body’s endocannabinoid system. This is a communications system in the brain and body that influences mood, memory, sleep and appetite.

The cannabis plant contains 80 to 100 cannabinoids. The one that gets people high is called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Other cannabinoids have been shown to relieve symptoms of disease. International research is looking at the therapeutic properties of some of the other cannabinoids.

The Endocannabinoid System

The endogenous cannabinoid system —named for the plant that led to its discovery, is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health.


Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. With its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind.


By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that could connect brain activity and states of physical health and disease.

Cannabinoid Receptors

How Do They Work?

Your cannabinoid receptors function with three types of cannabinoids – endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are those made by your own body. Phytocannabinoids are from plants and synthetic cannabinoids are man-made.

The body creates two main types of endocannabinoids – anandamide and 2-AG. They’re created in the brain, immune cells, organs, and connective tissues on an “as needed” basis.

Phytocannabinoids are plant-based cannabinoids most commonly found in cannabis. They can also be found in other plants, such as echinacea and cacao. Additionally, these plant cannabinoids can work with your cannabinoid receptors.

How exactly do the receptors work, though? Cannabinoids and your cannabinoid receptors fit together like a key to a lock. The cannabinoids travel through your system in search of receptors that they can bind to. When they find the right fit, they click together to unlock and send specific messages throughout your body.


Cannabinoid receptors are a part of your endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system is one of the largest neurotransmitter networks in the human body. In addition, it functions to maintain the balance of several physiological functions, such as:

  • Appetite and metabolism

  • Body temperature

  • Cognition and memory

  • Mood

  • Sleep

The cannabinoid receptors, which are found throughout the body, work with cannabinoids, or chemical messengers. When cannabinoids connect with the receptors, a reaction is triggered that brings physiological functions back into balance.

Types of Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, including the brain, immune system, connective tissues, and skin. You have two main types of receptors:

  • CB1 receptors, which are found mainly in the brain, nervous system, and various internal organs

  • CB2, which are found in the immune system and other systems associated with it

Both CB1 and CB2 receptors are found in the skin.