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Cannabis is a general term for drugs made from plants in the Cannabis genus. These drugs are often referred to as marijuana, pot, or one of dozens of other slang names.
Cannabis plants contain chemicals known as cannabinoids (cuh-NAB-uh-noids), which can bind to receptors in the human body, particularly in the brain. Scientists have identified more than 100 types of cannabinoid. The most notable of them is THC, short for delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (teh-truh-high-droh-cuh-NAB-uh-noll), which is primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis—the “high.”
The remainder of this page primarily concerns THC.
THC is most prevalent in the leaves and flowers of Cannabis plants, and one of the most common ways to take in THC is by smoking these parts of the plants (joints, bongs, etc.). They are also used in baked goods such as cookies and brownies. With the legalization of medical and/or recreational cannabis in many states, it is increasingly common for producers to extract the THC or other cannabinoid from the plant using solvents. These extracts can be used in edibles, including baked goods, gummies, chocolates and other candies, many of them mimicking traditional candy. Extracts may also be used in e-cigarettes.
Studies about possible medical benefits of cannabis are ongoing. Currently the FDA has approved only a small number of medications containing cannabinoids. These are available only by prescription from a doctor for very specific conditions related to certain types of epilepsy, HIV/AIDS and cancer treatment. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have each approved medical marijuana programs that allow treatment of a wider range of conditions. However, research has not yet determined how safe and effective these uses of cannabis are.
Cannabis can be harmful to young children and pets who swallow it unknowingly. Children may be particularly drawn to edible products, such as brownies, cookies and candy.
Teens and adults who use cannabis may also experience unwanted symptoms, especially from high doses. This is particularly common with edible forms because the effects can be delayed. In many instances someone will take a second dose before the first one has time to take effect. Confusion about the appropriate dose size is also common.
Note: Synthetic marijuana products, such as K2 and Spice, are designed to mimic THC, but their effects can be very different. Learn about these street drugs on our synthetic cannabinoids page.
Typical effects of using THC include:
Effects begin sooner after smoking cannabis, with the peak high happening within 30 minutes. They begin later after eating an edible, with the peak high usually arriving in 2 to 4 hours.
The effects of THC continue for hours after the high has ended: often 3 to 4 hours for smoking and as long as 12 hours for edibles, though with higher doses or concentrations they may last even longer. The effects on coordination and reaction time make it unsafe to drive while under the influence of cannabis.
THC use can also make the symptoms of depression and anxiety worse. Long-term use can lead to dependence.
Children who accidentally swallow cannabis can become very drowsy and may have trouble breathing. In severe cases, you may not be able to wake the child up. In many cases, children who swallow cannabis will need to be watched at a hospital.
Teens and adults who use a large amount of cannabis, especially edibles, may experience intense and unpleasant hallucinations. They may also experience repeated vomiting for anywhere from several hours to a few days, which may require hospital treatment. This is known as cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, a type of cyclic vomiting syndrome.
Pets can have symptoms similar to those seen in people, including loss of coordination, slowed reaction time and drowsiness.
Last Updated: Thursday December 7th 2023