NIH Report on Cannabinoids

Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)–Patient Version


  • Cannabis , also known as marijuana, is a plant grown in many parts of the world which produces a resin containing compounds called cannabinoids. Some cannabinoids are psychoactive (acting on the brain and changing mood or consciousness) (see Question 1).
  • The use of Cannabis for medicinal purposes dates back to ancient times (see Question 3).
  • By federal law, the possession of Cannabis is illegal in the United States outside of approved research settings. However, a growing number of states, territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana (see Question 1).
  • In the United States, Cannabis is a controlled substance requiring special licensing for its use (see Question 1 and Question 3).
  • Cannabinoids are active chemicals in Cannabis that cause drug -like effects throughout the body, including the central nervous systemand the immune system (see Question 2).
  • The main active cannabinoid in Cannabis is delta-9-THC. Another active cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD), which may relieve pain, lower inflammation, and decrease anxiety without causing the "high" of delta-9-THC (see Question 2).
  • Cannabinoids can be taken by mouth, inhaled, or sprayed under the tongue (see Question 5).
  • Cannabis and cannabinoids have been studied in the laboratory and the clinic for relief of pain, nausea and vomitinganxiety, and loss of appetite (see Question 6 and Question 7).
  • Cannabis and cannabinoids may have benefits in treating the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer therapies. There is growing interest in treating children for symptoms such as nausea with Cannabis and cannabinoids, although studies are limited (see Question 7).
  • Two cannabinoids (dronabinol and nabilone) are drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the prevention or treatment of chemotherapy -related nausea and vomiting (see Question 7 and Question 10).
  • Cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory (see  Question 6).
  • At this time, there is not enough evidence to recommend that patients inhale or ingest Cannabis as a treatment for cancer-related symptoms or side effects of cancer therapy (see Question 7).
  • Cannabis is not approved by the FDA for use as a cancer treatment (see Question 9).

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Questions and Answers About Cannabis

  • Updated: April 13, 2017

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