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Cannabis refers to the group of flowering plants in the family of Cannabaceae. The three types that are most widely recognized are C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis with sativa and indica being most commonly used in developing medical strains.
While over 489 distinct compounds have been identified on the leaves and flowering tops of the cannabis plant, three compounds (often referred to as cannabinoids) appear to be the principal compounds underlying its medical use. They are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabidiol (CBD).
Depending on a number of factors – climate, soil, cultivation techniques, genetics – the concentration of THC, CBN and CBD may vary in different strains of cannabis. It is these different concentrations of the active ingredients that allow cannabis to treat such a wide number of medical conditions.
Among the dozens of compounds found in cannabis, THC has been the most extensively studied. It also has the infamous reputation as being responsible for the majority of the psychotropic effects of cannabis.
The other derivatives of cannabinoids, such as CBD, are usually present in lesser concentrations, and have little or no psychotropic properties. They do however, like THC, play an important role in its medical use. For example, a strain with a low concentration of THC but a high CBD level might be prescribed to act as an analgesic or anti-inflammatory without the psychoactive effects caused by THC. A strain high in THC, but low in CBD, however, might be used to treat insomnia, lack of appetite, or muscle spasms.