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Understanding Medical Cannabis Terminology

19 July 2020

Understanding how to get the best medical cannabis care is hard enough in our current legislative environment without having to deal with an array of complicated terms too. 

Fortunately, we’re here to help you out with this so you know your THC from your terpenes. Read on to get clued up on all the terms you need to know.  


Cannabis refers to the genus (family) of plants that includes cannabis indica, cannabis sativa and cannabis ruderalis. 

This is the term that the medical and corporate cannabis sectors are most frequently adopting, as it legitimises the use of the plant by consumers by avoiding the racially problematic or stoner subtexts associated with the word: ‘marijuana’.


Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that act on the body’s cannabinoid receptors and often alter the neurotransmitter release of the brain. CBD and THC are some common cannabinoids you might already know. 


This is the most common cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, also known as Cannabidiol. CBD is also, notably, the most prevalent non-psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant.

CBD Isolate

CBD isolate is practically pure CBD (often 99.9% pure) that’s separated through extraction from the rest of the cannabis plant’s terpenes, flavonoids and other cannabinoids.

CBD isolate is one of the purest forms of CBD you can get, with it being made up almost entirely of CBD alone, but it may still contain extremely small amounts of other cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes sometimes.


Dronabinol, often marketed as Marinol, is a drug used to treat nausea and vomiting experienced by people going through chemotherapy. As is typically the case with other cannabis-based medicines, dronabinol is typically given after conventional medicines have been used and proved ineffective.

Dronabinol is also sometimes used to treat the loss of appetite and weight loss experienced by those who have developed acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Entourage Effect

Without getting too in-depth on this topic, the ‘entourage effect’ is the theory that cannabis may be more effective when it’s in its natural state than when specific cannabinoids are singled out and used alone. 

While the supposed effect is not entirely confirmed, although many researchers and professionals believe the theory to be true, the term was coined back in 1999 by scientist Raphael Mechoulam who theorised that when the various compounds of the plant are used together they elicit more therapeutic effect than when the compounds are used in isolation. 

The well-known example of Mechoulam’s entourage effect is the way in which CBD seems to mitigate the psychoactive effects of THC – cannabis products with a high CBD to THC ratio appear to have less detrimental psychoactive effects upon patients for instance.


Epidyolex is a cannabinoid-based medicine used to treat seizures from certain epileptic conditions like Dravet or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. These forms of epilepsy are particularly rare early childhood forms, with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome affecting between 1 and 5 out of every 100 children with epilepsy whilst Dravet syndrome affects 2 or 3 children per 500 children with epilepsy. Both forms are also often resistant to typical forms of treatment.


Flavonoids are natural phytonutrients and compounds that are found both in the cannabis plant and in a large number of fruits and vegetables.

Full-spectrum CBD

Full-spectrum CBD contains CBD as well as a number of other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids found naturally in the cannabis plant. This may, in some cases, include THC. Basically, it is not pure CBD, it is CBD and a mixture of other constituents of the cannabis plant. 


A form of the cannabis plant has a particularly low THC content (below 0.3 percent) typically used industrially. Hemp cannot elicit a high due to its low THC content. 

Herbal Medicine

Herbal or botanical medicine is defined as any herbal remedy that has biological activity which is shown to support health and wellness. Indeed, as defined by the NHS: Herbal medicines are those with active ingredients made from plant parts, such as leaves, roots or flowers’. 


This definition is more complicated. 

Many still see the word simply as a shorthand for conveying that the cannabis being mentioned is psychoactive. Indeed, as described by the National Geographic in their cannabis issue, when referencing recreational cannabis use (likely with psychoactive strains) in laws such as California Proposition 64, the term marijauana is typically used over cannabis, with this case in particular ‘frequently using the term “marijuana”, including using it in the full title of the act, while rarely mentioning “cannabis”’.

Additionally, some prefer to use the term ‘marijuana’ to describe ‘a high THC variety of [the] cannabis plant’, with Self magazine defining marijuana as: ‘Specifically the cannabis sativa species; [which] typically has high amounts of THC and moderate amounts of CBD, depending on the strain.’.

However, the word itself has a problematic racialised history, so many companies and professionals are now choosing to use the term ‘cannabis’ only. 

Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis is the term for plant derived cannabis products that are prescribed specifically by medical practitioners.


Phytocannabinoids are compounds naturally occurring in the cannabis plant that are distinct from synthetic cannabinoids that are man-made and endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoids naturally occurring in the body.

Recreational Cannabis

Recreational cannabis is defined as any cannabis used for non-medical purposes. Throughout Europe, recreational cannabis is mostly illegal.


Sativex (clinical name- nabiximols) is an oromucosal spray containing cannabinoids and is the first cannabis-based medicinal product to be licensed in the UK. Sativex is currently the only licensed drug in the UK for the treatment of spasticity caused by Multiple Sclerosis.

Like with many other cannabis-based medicinal products, Sativex is only recommended for use when other conventional treatments have proved ineffective.

Synthetic cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made chemicals that act like THC, cannabis’ main psychoactive cannabinoid, as they affect the same receptors in the brain. 

However, synthetic cannabinoids are considered to be far more dangerous and unpredictable than naturally occurring cannabis as they affect the brain in a more powerful way, creating far more serious side effects.


Terpenes are compounds that are responsible for giving cannabis its distinctive smell, with these fragrant oils being deemed responsible for the plant’s flavour, with different strains of the plant possessing distinct tastes dependent upon their terpene content.


THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most prevalent psychoactive cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. It generally constitutes between 12 and 20 percent of the dried content in some strains of cannabis and up to 25 to 30 percent in more potent varieties.

THC is most well-known as the compound that creates the high typically associated with recreational cannabis use.

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Author: Bojan
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Bojan Ambrus, Head of Marketing & Digital Product at Lyphe Group, is a data-driven growth marketing professional with over 15 years of rich experience. His background includes roles such as Head of Marketing at and growth marketing roles in various enterprises, startups, and scale-ups. His expertise in building and positioning businesses is particularly valuable in the cannabis sector, where he navigates its complexities and regulatory challenges. His strategic marketing insights make Bojan a key player in shaping Lyphe Group's marketing and digital product strategies.

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