About cannabis

Learn about cannabis (marijuana), its uses, and forms.

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Cannabis and its components

Cannabis refers to the plant Cannabis sativa. The cannabis plant originally comes from Asia. It is now grown around the world, including in Canada.

Chemical substances in cannabis

Cannabis contains hundreds of chemical substances. Over 100 of these are known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are made and stored in the plant's trichomes. Trichomes are tiny, clear hairs that stick out from the flowers and leaves of the plant. Cannabinoids have effects on cell receptors in the brain and body. They can change how those cells behave and communicate with each other.


The most researched cannabinoid is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is responsible for the way your brain and body respond to cannabis, including causing the high and intoxication. THC has some therapeutic effects but it also has harmful effects. Harmful effects may be greater when the strength of THC is higher.

The potency (concentration or strength) of THC in cannabis is often shown as a percentage of THC by weight (or by volume of an oil). THC potency in dried cannabis has increased from an average of 3% in the 1980s to around 15% today. Some strains can have an average as high as 30% THC.

Cannabis that contains very low amounts of THC in its flowers and leaves (less than 0.3%) is classified as hemp.

Other intoxicating cannabinoids

There are cannabinoids other than THC that can cause the high and intoxication. Most of them may be found naturally at low levels in cannabis plants. However, they may also be synthetically produced or obtained from plants that were grown to produce them at higher levels.

Some of these include:

  • delta-8-THC
  • delta-10-THC
  • delta-6a-10a-THC
  • THC-O-acetate (THC-O)
  • cannabinol (CBN)
  • hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)
  • tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
  • tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP)
  • tetrahydrocannabutol (THCB)

While less researched and understood, the risks from consuming these other intoxicating cannabinoids are probably similar to the risks from consuming delta-9-THC. However, not all intoxicating cannabinoids may cause the same level or type of effects.


Cannabidiol (CBD) is another cannabinoid. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce a high or intoxication. There is some evidence that CBD may block or lower some of the effects of THC on the mind. This may occur when the amount of CBD in the cannabis is the same or higher than the amount of THC. CBD is also being studied for its possible therapeutic uses.


Terpenes are chemicals made and stored in the trichomes of the cannabis plant, with the cannabinoids. Terpenes give cannabis its distinctive smell.

How cannabis is used

The cannabis plant is used for its effects on the mind. It is also used for medical, social or religious purposes. Marijuana is a slang term for the dried flowers, leaves, stems and seeds of the cannabis plant.

Cannabis can be taken in different ways, by:

  • smoking:
    • joints or spliffs (cannabis rolled in cigarette paper)
      • which may be mixed with tobacco
    • pipes and bongs (a type of pipe)
    • blunts (partially or entirely hollowed out cigar wrappers filled with cannabis)
  • drinking or eating:
    • teas
    • sodas
    • cannabis oil
    • baked goods
  • vaporizing and vaping (breathing in dried cannabis or liquid cannabis vapours through a vaporizer or vaping device)
  • dabbing (breathing in very hot vapours from heating cannabis concentrates)

Results of the 2017 Canadian Cannabis Survey provide a snapshot of how much cannabis Canadians use, how often they use it, and in what form.

The different forms of cannabis

Most cannabis products come from or can be made using the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. Depending on how they are made, these products can have a range of potencies of THC (and CBD). Table 1 lists the main forms of cannabis and typical potencies of THC.

Table 1
Form Description THC potency
fresh or dried herbal material Flowers and leaves from the cannabis plant up to 30%
cannabis oil Cannabis extract dissolved in oil. Can be used to make other forms (for example, edibles). up to 3%
chemically concentrated extracts (for example, hash oil/shatter/budder/wax) Highly concentrated cannabis extract dissolved in petroleum-based solvent (for example, butane). Shatter, budder and wax most highly concentrated. up to 90%
physically concentrated extracts (for example, hash/kief) Loose trichomes or pressed resin from the cannabis plant. up to 60%
edibles Foods and drinks containing extracts of cannabis Depends on the amount of extract added
tinctures/sprays Cannabis extract dissolved in a solvent, often alcohol. Can be used to make other products (for example, edibles). varies
creams/salves/liniments Cannabis extract preparation prepared with alcohol, oil or wax and applied to the skin. varies

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