Cannabinoids: The ABCs, THCs, and CBDs of Cannabis Use

Cannabinoids The ABCs, THCs, and CBDs of Cannabis Use
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By Jeffrey Bradley, MD, Medical Director, HealthQwest in Buford and Douglasville, Georgia. Pinnacle Treatment Centers has five HealthQwest addiction treatment centers throughout the state.   

Man in grey shirt.

You will often hear the terms “marijuana” and “cannabis” used interchangeably, but their distinctions are actually pretty profound. Cannabis products are anything derived from the plant Cannabis sativa. The resulting product is considered “marijuana” when it is derived from cannabis and also has a significant THC content.

As the health benefits of medical cannabinoids are being promoted, and more municipalities are legalizing both medicinal and recreational use, it is important to be well-informed and understand what cannabinoids are.

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are defined as any type of product that comes from the Cannabis sativa plant. This includes more than 500 chemical substances, such as THC, cannabidiol (CBD), hemp, and more.

The Different Types of Cannabinoids

Picture of marijuana leaf, part of the cannabinoid family.

While the numbers vary a bit from source to source, NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health cites more than 500 different chemicals in the cannabis plant and about 80-100 different cannabinoids.

The two main cannabinoids in daily use are:

  • CBD (cannabidiol)
  • THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)

Generally speaking, the cannabinoids people use are organized into three groups:

  • Recreational
  • Medicinal
  • Synthetic

Marijuana Cannabinoids: What Are They?

It should come as no surprise that the two most common cannabinoids used are also the primary marijuana cannabinoids: CBD and THC. The THC is what sets marijuana apart. Many people report that CBD offers a calming effect, but it doesn’t have the same psychoactive effect of THC. Marijuana is introduced into the body through:

  • Smoking/inhalation
  • Oral consumption
  • Topical application

The Negative Effects of Cannabinoids

For the most part, CBD is safe to use and has no serious negative side effects. Some reported effects include lightheadedness and drowsiness, which may be caused by a third possible effect: lowered blood pressure. Like with THC, CBD can cause dry mouth or “cottonmouth.”

Doctor taking patients blood pressure.

Abundant and constant use of THC can undoubtedly have negative effects on physical health and mental acuity. Frequent users may have a higher risk of:

  • Muddled thought processes
  • Reduction in mental clarity
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart attack
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Reduction in bone density
  • Labored breathing
  • Chronic cough
  • COPD
  • Recurring lung infections
  • Cancer

Cannabinoid Side Effects

Cannabinoids can have side effects. If someone uses too much, they can become anxious, paranoid, and even suffer delusions and hallucinations.

Just like with alcohol, a person’s tolerance has a lot to do with how much they can ingest. And there are many different strains available, so not all marijuana is grown or processed alike.

Do Cannabinoids Interact with Other Drugs?

Cannabinoids are drugs, so the very simple answer to this question is “yes”—and potential interactions need to be taken very seriously.

For example, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reported that:

  • “Very high international normalized ratio [INR] levels and bleeding have been reported with combined use of warfarin and marijuana.”
  • Smoked marijuana can increase the clearance, or expulsion from the body, of theophylline by as much as 40%. Theophylline is a treatment for respiratory diseases like COPD and asthma.
  • CBD and THC can have additive effects with drugs like opioids, antihistamines, and other drugs that depress the central nervous system.

Explaining Cannabis Use Disorder

Once the use of cannabinoid-containing substances start having a negative impact on a person’s life and that of those around them, it has become an addiction, known as Cannabis Use Disorder or CUD.

People suffering from Cannabis Use Disorder may experience the following when they abstain from cannabinoids:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Mood swings
  • Heightened irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sense of restlessness

There are also reported physical discomforts such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Tremors
  • Fevers and chills
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

There is also believed to be a genetic component to CUD. In a Genome-Wide Association Survey, a specific genetic mutation was found in all those who had CUD, and was not found in those who did not experience CUD.

Are All Cannabinoids Psychoactive?

CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. A couple other non-psychoactive cannabinoids include CBG (cannabigerol) and CBC (cannabichromene).


Experts are finding CBG to be helpful in treating eye conditions like glaucoma. In clinical experiments with mice, it appears to help reduce the inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease. Researchers in Europe have found that CBG is an effective antibacterial, and may lead to a turnaround treatment of Staphylococcus aureus, one of the most dangerous, and oftentimes drug-resistant, bacterium.

Doctor checking older man's eyes.


There is research indicating that CBC may be a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer. Like CBD, CBC has also been found useful in the treatment of pain and inflammation. CBC’s effect on neural stem progenitor cells (NSPCs) may be able to one day counteract the effects of oxidative stress that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.

What are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids are considered a “designer drug” because they are created in a lab to mimic the effects of naturally occurring drugs, in this case CBD and THC. K2/Spice is a mixture of plant material that is sprayed with psychoactive chemicals.

There have been a number of issues with synthetic cannabinoids, because they are being labeled as “potpourri” or “herbal” or “incense,” and thus “not for human consumption.” Anyone can go into their local convenience store, buy it, and use it.

Because it is labeled as “not for human consumption,” there is no government regulation or review of the product. In July 2018, more than 70 people overdosed in a single day in New Haven, CT. The month before, more than 300 people overdosed in a two-week period in D.C.

The Verdict on Cannabinoids

Woman at her computer looking out the window.

Excessive cannabis use can lead to mood swings, poor sleep, loss of appetite, and more. If you or a loved one has seen cannabinoid use develop into an addiction, don’t delay: Contact us at Pinnacle Treatment Centers. We’re experienced with treating drug addictions, and we can help.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.