Cannabinoid Drugs Overview

What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids refer to drugs derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, like marijuana, and those that were synthetically created in a lab that produce similar effects. These drugs bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which is why they all have comparable effects.

Though the Cannabis sativa plant produces hundreds of cannabinoids and cannabinoid chemicals, the main cannabinoids derived from Cannabis are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and (CBD) cannabidiol. THC is the main psychoactive component in marijuana - the key element that produces the high. CBD is sometimes used medicinally to reduce anxiety or pain.

Cannabinoids produced synthetically are designed to create effects similar to naturally derived cannabinoids. However, research has shown that these can be more potent and have more dangerous adverse side effects including tachycardia, agitation, and psychosis.

Commonly used cannabinoids

Cannabis (Marijuana)

Cannabis refers to any product that comes from the Cannabis sativa plant, but the most commonly used is THC, which is the main psychoactive component of marijuana. Marijuana can be smoked, inhaled as a vapor, or ingested in edible form. Cannabis might induce feelings of relaxation, increased appetite, excitement or laughter. It can also produce unpleasant side effects like dry mouth, anxiety, slowed reflexes, and memory impairment.

Medicinal cannabis

Medicinal cannabis is prescribed by doctors to offer relief from a variety of medical and mental health conditions. As opposed to marijuana, which is used for recreational purposes, medicinal cannabis does not produce a high, but may help individuals with chronic conditions such as cancer. It can be prescribed to alleviate pain, increase appetite, and reduce anxiety.

Synthetic cannabis

Synthetic cannabis is part of a growing number of lab-created drugs known as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), which are designed to mimic the effects of cannabis. By avoiding the use of controlled substances, synthetic cannabis can be sold legally. However, these substances are known to produce harmful side effects including irregular heartbeat, agitation and paranoia, vomiting, chest pain, and seizures.

Hash oil

Concentrated butane hash oil, also known as dabs, is used by inhaling concentrated THC. The use of this method results in a substance that has a concentration of up to 80% compared to traditional cannabis, which ranges from 10-25%. Like cannabis, hash oil can have effects such as induced euphoria, relaxation, sociability, and increased appetite. However, it may also produce effects like paranoia, anxiety and panic, dissociation, and slowed reaction time.

Is marijuana the same thing as cannabis?

Though the two are often used interchangeably, marijuana refers to substances derived from the Cannabis sativa plant that contain THC, the component that creates the typical high in marijuana. Cannabis more broadly refers to all substances that come from Cannabis sativa, some of which don’t have psychoactive effects at all. Hemp and CBD, for instance, don’t have enough THC to produce a high, so they are not considered marijuana.

What do cannabinoids do?

Cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and nervous system. These receptors are involved in several important physiological functions including the perception of pain, mood, appetite and memory. This action on the nervous system accounts for the typical effects of cannabinoid use that involve alleviation of pain, relaxation, increased appetite and feelings of well-being.

Types of cannabinoids
  • Cannabis - The most well-known cannabinoid extracted from the Cannabis sativa plant. These are the dried buds of the plant that are smoked, more commonly known as marijuana.
  • Hemp - This variety of the Cannabis sativa plant contains low levels of THC and is grown for industrial use. The fibers of the plant can be used to make fabrics, rope, and paper.
  • Medicinal cannabinoids - These include cannabis extracts like Nabiximols as well as synthetic cannabinoids such as Dronabinol, which are used by prescription to alleviate symptoms of various chronic diseases.
  • HU-210 - One of the most well-known synthetic cannabinoids first discovered in the 1980s. It’s 100 times more potent than naturally occurring THC.
  • JWH - This family of synthetic cannabinoids has hundreds of varieties with varying levels of toxicity.
  • 5F-ADB - A designer cannabinoid that is a potent cannabinoid receptor agonist which is associated with increased overdoses due to its high potency.
What are synthetic cannabinoids?
Synthetic cannabinoids are those engineered in a laboratory to mimic the effects of naturally occurring cannabis. Because of the way they’re manufactured, they’re often more potent than natural THC, having more dangerous effects even when used at low levels. Creating cannabinoids synthetically allows manufacturers to skirt limits on the sale of controlled substances. This makes synthetic cannabinoids harder to regulate and makes them more unpredictable as its production may vary over time, creating more potent or toxic cannabinoids.

Side Effects of Cannabinoids

Side effects may vary according to individual characteristics, duration of use, dosage, and potential interactions with other drugs. Common side effects include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Impaired coordination and judgment

Withdrawal from Cannabinoids

Like other commonly abused drugs, cannabinoids can lead to withdrawal symptoms after prolonged use is suddenly discontinued. Symptoms of withdrawal from cannabinoids may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Hot flashes
  • Mood swings

Getting Help: Cannabinoid Drugs Addiction Recovery

Cannabis and other cannabinoids are some of the most commonly abused drugs in the US. They may act as a gateway drug to more potent and dangerous drugs. With prolonged use, cannabinoids can have long-term effects on memory, coordination, and overall mood. The first step in achieving a cannabinoid-free lifestyle is to acknowledge the detrimental impact of problematic use on normal life and daily function.

A rehabilitation program can help you safely detox from cannabinoids under the supervision of medical professionals. An individualized rehab program can help restore your ability to live without the use of drugs and put you in control of your own well-being.

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