2017 Glossary of Cannabinoid Terms

GW Pharmaceuticals, Plc., has shared the following glossary to aid readers' understanding of cannabis, marijuana, and related terms. Download an illustrated version here.

Cannabis-Related Terms


“Cannabis” is the generic term for products of the plant, Cannabis sativa L

  • Cannabis is a widely distributed plant1 that is one of the oldest sources of fiber, food, oil, and medicine2
  • Cannabis, and all of its cannabinoid components, is a controlled substance classified as a Schedule I agent in the US; this classification denotes a drug with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use3

Cannabis sativa L.

The scientific name of the cannabis plant4

The two varieties of cannabis – sativa and indica – are considered subspecies; Cannabis sativa subsp. sativa contains <0.3% (dry weight) of THC and Cannabis sativa subsp. indica contains >0.3% of THC.4,5 Current botanical thinking, however, now refers only to a single species – Cannabis sativa L.

Marijuana and Related Terms


A dried mixture of cannabis leaves and flowers6

Whole Plant

Concept implying that products derived from the entire cannabis plant may be better than the individual cannabinoids isolated from it (eg, purified CBD-only formulas)7

Recreational Marijuana (RM)*

Use of cannabis or cannabis products used to induce pleasure, euphoria, relaxation, and to enhance sociability8

*For this term there is no scientifically accepted definition.

Medical Marijuana (MM)*

Use of cannabis or cannabis products in an attempt to treat disease or alleviate symptoms by patient choice, understanding that there is a lack of placebo-controlled trials supporting the favorable efficacy and safety of these products10,11

The DEA also recently affirmed maintaining marijuana as a Schedule I substance.9

*For this term there is no scientifically accepted definition.


Strains of Cannabis sativa L. historically grown for fibrous materials found in stalks and seeds; contain minimal amounts of THC5 and low levels of CBD.4 Used industrially to develop items, such as clothing fiber.4 The flowering portions of the hemp variety may be used to extract CBD.4 Cannabinoids extracted from hemp plants are considered marijuana and are classified as a Schedule I substance.11‡

The Controlled Substances Act does not define hemp, per se. Its definition of marijuana includes all parts of the Cannabis sativa L. plant, and the seeds and resin extracted from any part of such plant; it exempts all marijuana stalk, fiber, and sterilized seeds (and preparations made from them).12

Hemp Oil / Hempseed Oil

An oil extracted from cannabis seeds by cold pressing. It contains only trace amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes, and is high in unsaturated fatty acids; used in paints and varnishes and in manufacturing soap and a wide variety of food products.4


An extract obtained from the flowering portions of the hemp plant, then dissolved in another oil (coconut, sesame, etc). It typically contains no THC and has no psychoactive properties.13

Cannabis Oil*

Concentrated cannabis extracts, often containing very high concentrations of THC14,15

Why is this term considered ambiguous? The constituents are often unclear; the relative amounts of cannabinoids are not always specified.

*For this term there is no scientifically accepted definition.



Term used to refer to molecules that are found in the cannabis plant and/or that interact with cannabinoid receptors, as well as the derivatives, and transformation products of those molecules.16-19 They can be classified as phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids, or synthetic cannabinoids.


Chemicals produced by the body20 that target cannabinoid receptors21

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids produced in the laboratory to structurally or functionally mimic the endocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids20


Over 100 naturally occurring chemicals found in the cannabis plant with a chemical structure related to endocannabinoids.20 The most well-characterized, so far, are described below6:

  • CBD: Cannabidiol, one of the major cannabinoids derived from cannabis or synthesized. CBD is under evaluation for its anticonvulsant properties, among other therapeutic uses. CBD has very low affinity at the cannabinoid receptors, type 1 (CB1) and type 2 (CB2), and is not believed to be psychoactive.7
  • THC: Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, a major phytocannabinoid derived from cannabis, is thought to be the pharmacologically most active cannabinoid of the cannabis plant, largely responsible for its psychoactive properties due to its agonist activity at CB1 receptors (behavioral, cognitive, and psychotropic effects)7
  • CBDV: Cannabidivarin, a variant of CBD with some animal evidence supporting anticonvulsant and other effects under investigation22
  • THCV: Tetrahydrocannabidivarin – structurally similar to THC, it is an antagonist at CB123
  • THCA: Δ1-Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, the most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis bred for recreational use; as a nonpsychoactive precursor of THC, THCA converts to THC when heated (to temperatures greater than those found in the human body) or smoked21


The primary aromatic principles found in cannabis, providing the scent and flavor of the cannabis plant24,25

CBD-Rich (sometimes referred to as “Enriched”) Extracts*

Preparations from cannabis plants that are higher in CBD than plants bred historically for recreation.26

The term “enriched” is often used inappropriately.

*For this term there is no scientifically accepted definition.

FDA-Approved Formulation of CBD*

Controlled CBD preparation that meets Food and Drug Administration standards of purity, consistency, stability, safety, and efficacy; it can be plant-derived or synthetic.27

*For this term there is no scientifically accepted definition.

Endocannabinoid System and Related Terms

Endocannabinoid Receptors

Binding sites for cannabinoids within the brain and body28

Endocannabinoid System

Communication system within the brain comprising identified cannabinoid receptors, the endocannabinoids that target the receptors, and the downstream effects29,30

Entourage Effect*

This term originates in endocannabinoid science, but is commonly used to suggest that combining multiple constituents of the whole cannabis plant may result in enhanced therapeutic effects. More data in patients are needed to support or refute this theory in specific disease states.7,31

Why is this term considered ambiguous? Although the observation of synergy may suggest that adequate efficacy requires a cumulative effect of multiple cannabis constituents, additional testing needs to be done. Preclinical and clinical evidence suggests that some purified cannabinoids are efficacious when administered alone.7

*For this term there is no scientifically accepted definition.

Nutraceuticals & Dietary Supplements


A term derived from combining “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical;” there is no regulatory definition and it does not fall within a recognized regulatory category of the FDA32,33

  • Individual nutraceuticals do not undergo testing for medical or health benefits

*For this term there is no scientifically accepted definition.

Dietary Supplement

A product (other than tobacco) intended for ingestion to add further nutritional value to supplement the diet that contains one or more of the following dietary ingredients (or a constituent/extract of these ingredients)34,35

  • Vitamin
  • Mineral
  • Amino acid
  • Concentrate
  • Metabolite
  • Herb or other botanical
  • Substance to increase total dietary intake

Dietary supplements are FDA regulated as foods, but the FDA has stated that CBD may not be marketed as a dietary supplement.36

Regulatory Guidelines§

§ In this document, federal laws and acts are cited because, although an individual state may enact its own laws regarding cannabis, the federal laws (in theory) supersede any state laws in place.

FDA-Approved Medication

A designation granted by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research after rigorous placebo-controlled studies to guide correct dosing, safety, and efficacy of new compounds for medical use.37 Demonstration of product consistency is also required for FDA approval.

DEA-Drug Scheduling

Drugs, substances, and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified into five distinct categories (or schedules) at the federal level by the DEA; these depend upon the drug’s acceptable medical use in treatment in the US, their relative abuse potential, and the likelihood of causing dependence when abused38

Schedule 1 is the most restrictive designation.

Agricultural Act of 2014

Known as the “Farm Bill,” this was signed by President Obama on February 7, 2014. Section 7606 highlights the “Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research,” authorizing industrial hemp (Cannabis plants containing 0.3% or less THC by weight) to be used in research and pilot programs by institutions of higher education or state5


  1. ElSohly M, Gul W. Constituents of Cannabis sativa. In: Pertwee RG, ed. Handbook of Cannabis. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 2014:3-22. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/handbook-of-cannabis-9780199662685?cc=us&lang=en&
  2. Hillig KW, Mahlberg PG. A chemotaxonomic analysis of cannabinoid variation in cannabis (Cannabaceae). Am J Bot. 2004;91:966-975. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Hillig+Am+J+Bot.+2004%3B91%3A966-975
  3. Cannabis and cannabinoids–Health professional version. National Cancer Institute website https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq#section/all. Accessed June 20, 2016.
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  5. Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research. Section 7606 of 2013 Farm Bill. http://www.votehemp.com/PDF/Pages_from_farm0127.pdf. Accessed September 15, 2016.
  6. What Is marijuana? National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-marijuana. Accessed June 20, 2016.
  7. Rosenberg EC, Tsien RW, Whalley BJ, Devinsky O. Cannabinoids and epilepsy. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12:747-768. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=7.%09Rosenberg+EC%2C+Tsien+RW%2C+Whalley+BJ%2C+Devinsky+O.+Cannabinoids+and+epilepsy.+Neurotherapeutics.+2015%3B12%3A747-768
  8. Hall W. Recreational cannabis: sought-after effects, adverse effects, designer drugs, and harm minimization. In: Pertwee RG, ed. Handbook of Cannabis. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 2014:645-646. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/handbook-of-cannabis-9780199662685?cc=us&lang=en&
  9. Dept of Justice. Drug Enforcement Administration. 21 CFR Chapter II. Federal Register; Vol. 81, No. 156. 2016; 53688-53766. http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/fed_regs/rules/2016/fr0812.pdf
  10. Sevigny EL, Pacula RL, Heaton P. The effects of medical marijuana laws on potency. Int J Drug Policy. 2014;25:308-319. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=11.%09Sevigny+EL%2C+Pacula+RL%2C+Heaton+P.+The+effects+of+medical+marijuana+laws+on+potency.+Int+J+Drug+Policy.+2014%3B25%3A308-319
  11. Coppen JJW. Gums, Resins and Latexes of Plant Origin. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations;1995;142. http://www.fao.org/3/a-v9236e.pdf
  12. Controlled Substances Act. Title 21 United States Code (USC) Controlled Substances Act (21 USC 802(d) (16). http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/21cfr/21usc/. Accessed June 20, 2016.
  13. Seed Guides Info. Hemp oil: benefits, nutrition, side effects and facts. http://www.seedguides.info/hemp-oil/. Accessed August 22, 2016.
  14. Romano LL, Hazekamp A. Cannabis oil: chemical evaluation of an upcoming cannabis-based medicine. Cannabinoids. 2013;1:1-11. http://www.bedrocan.nl/userfiles/file/cannabs%20oil%20hazekamp%20Romano.pdf
  15. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Recommended methods for the identification and analysis of cannabis and cannabis products. New York: United Nations, 2009. https://www.unodc.org/documents/scientific/ST-NAR-40-Ebook.pdf. Accessed June 20, 2016.
  16. Agurell S, Dewey WL Willett RE, eds. The Cannabinoids: Chemical, Pharmacologic, and Therapeutic Aspects. New York: Academic Press, 1984. https://books.google.com/books?id=x7y7ruiagigC&pg=PR3&lpg=PR3&dq=The+Cannabinoids:+Chemical,+Pharmacologic,+and+Therapeutic+Aspects.+New+York:+Academic+Press,+1984&source=bl&ots=zM7FV_28Cb&sig=oqa5W6rA3jY81d0pDUdkXayaBvo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj6pIWWmZ7PAhWD4SYKHShkBsUQ6AEIJzAB#v=onepage&q=The%20Cannabinoids%3A%20Chemical%2C%20Pharmacologic%2C%20and%20Therapeutic%20Aspects.%20New%20York%3A%20Academic%20Press%2C%201984&f=false
  17. Agurell S, Halldin M, Lindgren JE, et al. Pharmacokinetics and metabolism of delta 1-tetrahydrocannabinol and other cannabinoids with emphasis on man. Pharmacol Rev. 1986;38:21-43. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Agurell+S%2C+Halldin+M%2C+Lindgren+JE%2C+et+al.+Pharmacokinetics+and+metabolism+of+delta+1-tetrahydrocannabinol+and+other+cannabinoids+with+emphasis+on+man.+Pharmacol+Rev.+1986%3B38%3A21-43
  18. Mechoulam R ed. Marijuana: Chemistry, Pharmacology, Metabolism and Clinical Effects. New York: Academic Press, 1973. http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=11751137525&searchurl=tn%3Dmarijuana%2Bchemistry%2Bpharmacology%2Bmetabolism%2Bclinical%2Beffects%26sortby%3D17
  19. Appendino G, Chianese G, Taglialatela-Scafati O. Cannabinoids: occurrence and medicinal chemistry. Curr Med Chem. 2011;18:1085-1099. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Appendino+G%2C+Chianese+G%2C+Taglialatela-Scafati+O.+Cannabinoids%3A+occurrence+and+medicinal+chemistry.+Curr+Med+Chem.+2011%3B18%3A1085-1099
  20. Grotenhermen F. Cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids. 2006;1:10-14. https://www.cannabis-med.org/data/pdf/en_2006_01_2.pdf
  21. Wohlfarth A, Mahler H, Auwärter V. Rapid isolation procedure for Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid A (THCA) from cannabis sativa using two flash chromatography systems. J Chromatogr. 2011;3059-3064. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21944900
  22. Hill AJ, Mercier MS, Hill TD, et al. Cannabidivarin is anticonvulsant in mouse and rat. Br J Pharmacol. 2012;167:1629-1642. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=31.%09Hill+AJ%2C+Mercier+MS%2C+Hill+TD%2C+et+al.+Cannabidivarin+is+anticonvulsant+in+mouse+and+rat.+Br+J+Pharmacol.+2012%3B167%3A1629-1642
  23. Williams CM, Jones NA, Whalley BJ. Cannabis and Epilepsy. In: Pertwee RG, ed. Handbook of Cannabis. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 2014:547-563. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/handbook-of-cannabis-9780199662685?cc=us&lang=en&
  24. Brenneisen R. Chemistry and analysis of phytocannabinoids and other cannabis constituents. In: ElSohly MA, ed. Marijuana and the Cannabinoids. Totowa, New Jersey: Humana Press; 2007:17-50. http://www.hampapartiet.se/09.pdf
  25. Clarke RC, Watson DP. Cannabis and natural cannabis medicines. In: ElSohly MA, ed. Marijuana and the Cannabinoids. Totowa, New Jersey: Humana Press; 2007:17-50. http://www.hampapartiet.se/09.pdf
  26. Hussain SA, Zhou R, Jacobson C, et al. Perceived efficacy of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis extracts for treatment of pediatric epilepsy: a potential role for infantile spasms and Lennox–Gastaut syndrome. Epilepsy Behav. 2015;47:138-141. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Hussain+Epilepsy+Behav.+2015%3B47%3A138-141
  27. Guidelines for the use of non-pharmaceutical grade compounds in laboratory animals. National Institutes of Health website https://oacu.oir.nih.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/arac-guidelines/pharmaceutical_compounds.pdf. Accessed June 20, 2016.
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  31. Ben-Shabat S, Fride E, Sheskin T, et al. An entourage effect: inactive endogenous fatty acid glycerol esters enhance 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol cannabinoid activity. Eur J Pharmacol. 1998;353:23-31. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9721036
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  34. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. National Institutes of Health website. https://ods.od.nih.gov/About/DSHEA_Wording.aspx. Accessed June 20, 2016.
  35. Dietary supplements. Food and Drug Administration website. http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/default.htm. Accessed June 20, 2016.
  36. FEDERAL FOOD, DRUG, AND COSMETIC ACT. [21 U.S.C. § 321(ff)(3)(B)(ii)]. https://legcounsel.house.gov/Comps/Federal%20Food,%20Drug,%20And%20Cosmetic%20Act.pdf. Accessed December 16, 2016.
  37. How drugs are developed and approved. Food and Drug Administration website. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/HowDrugsareDevelopedandApproved/. Accessed June 20, 2016.
  38. Drug scheduling. Drug Enforcement Agency website. https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ds.shtml. Accessed June 20, 2016.

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Plc. | 2017