Cannabis is often referred to as a drug in a singular manner, but in reality there are hundreds of compounds in whole-plant derived Cannabis medications that can lead to different therapeutic effects (the way these different molecules interact for form specific effects is called the Entourage effect and will be covered in detail later).
The medicinal properties of the Cannabis plant come from these chemicals that the plant produces: mainly cannabinoids and terpenoids. Since these chemicals are not involved in the primary processes of the plant (growth, development, or reproduction), they are called secondary metabolites. Some commonly-known secondary metabolites are menthol (found in mint) and capsaicin (found in chili peppers, make them spicy!).
But there are also some drugs that were derived from secondary metabolites, as well. Aspirin's predecessor (salicylic acid) is a secondary metabolite from the willow plant. Likewise morphine is a secondary metabolite from the poppy plant!
The two drugs in Cannabis that have been researched the most are D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Back in the 1960's THC was purified and identified as the psychoactive component of Cannabis and was later used to identify the specific drug target that it interacts with in humans - the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).
Specifically, THC was found to interact with the Cannabinoid 1 (CB1) Receptor. But since then, there has been a lot of research surrounding the entire ECS. Before we go on to cover the system as whole, we'll take a step back and look at exactly what a receptor is and how it works in our bodies.
For now, please ask any questions pertaining to THC and CBD as secondary metabolites! We will be covering their individual profiles separately after diving through the ECS basics!