Cannabinoids are a large family of chemicals related to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s main psychoactive (mind-altering) ingredient. Besides THC, the marijuana plant contains over 100 other cannabinoids. Scientists and manufacturers of “designer” drugs have also synthesized numerous cannabinoids in the laboratory (some of which are extremely potent and, when abused, have led to serious health consequences). The body also produces its own cannabinoid chemicals (called endocannabinoids), which play a role in regulating pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, sensory and time perception, appetite, and pain.
Currently the two main cannabinoids of interest therapeutically are THC and cannabidiol (CBD), found in varying ratios in the marijuana plant. THC stimulates appetite and reduces nausea (and there are already approved THC-based medications for these purposes), but it may also decrease pain, inflammation, and spasticity. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that may also be useful in reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures, and possibly even treating psychosis and addictions.
Research funded by the NIH is actively investigating the possible therapeutic uses of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids to treat autoimmune diseases, cancer, inflammation, pain, seizures, substance use disorders, and other psychiatric disorders.