Marijuana vs Cannabis: What’s the Difference?

While both words have been used in relation to the cannabis industry, they each have distinct meanings, histories, and origins. To begin, there is no “marijuana plant.” There is a cannabis plant that as a whole or in part is sometimes referred to as marijuana¹. However, the term marijuana has consistently been used in a negative light since its inception.

The Spanish word “marijhuana” was adopted to reinforce the connection between the “devil’s weed” and Mexican immigrants who, allegedly, first introduced it to American society. (Note: In the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration adopted a policy of standardizing the spelling of the word as “marijuana.”)²

Cannabis is a scientific term generally used to refer to the species Cannabis sativa, which most researchers consider to be one extremely diverse and highly variable species. There is some debate on this matter, and a few researchers recognize Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis as separate species rather than a subspecies.³

There is a consistent and ever-expanding list of health benefits (both proven and continually researched), and using the term cannabis is not only beneficial in changing public assessment – it is illustrative of the power of this plant, its historic significance, and the need to shed decades of misinformation.

It is important that we work to continue to de-stigmatize cannabis and show how it can be beneficial for a myriad of medical conditions and ailments. That includes understanding that the misuse of terms impacts the industry negatively.

¹CBD Web. (2017). Hemp vs. Marijuana vs. Cannabis: What’s the difference?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2017].

²Gettman, J. (2015). Marijuana vs. Cannabis: Pot-Related Terms to Use and Words We Should Lose · High Times. [online] High Times. Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2017].

³Leafly. (2017). The Cannabis Taxonomy Debate: Where Do Indica and Sativa Classifications Come From? | Leafly. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2017].

Does CBD have the same intoxicating properties as THC?

There are over 100 unique cannabinoids in cannabis, but two of the most often referenced and well researched are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC, or THC dominant strains of cannabis, are associated with psychoactive and intoxicating experiences and effects, while CBD is not – however, both have powerful medicinal properties.

For example, effects of THC have been shown to include:

  • Combating wasting associated with HIV¹
  • Improving glaucoma²
  • Lessening tremors or spasms³
  • Working as a neuroprotectant⁴

While effects of CBD have been shown to include:

  • Reducing inflammation⁵
  • Lessening depression⁶
  • Providing relief from convulsions⁷
  • Decreasing anxiety⁸

Scientists and researchers now believe that the various components of cannabis have synergistic relationships with one another, meaning that they are more effective when utilized together than apart. This is known as the entourage effect⁹, and it is thought that together these compounds amplify the benefits of the plant.

¹Struwe, M., Kaempfer, S., Geiger, C., Pavia, A., Plasse, T., Shepard, K., Ries, K. and Evans, T. (1993). Effect of dronabinol on nutritional status in HIV infection. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] (US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, PubMed). Available at:

²Adelli, G., Bhagav, P., Taskar, P., Hingorani, T., Pettaway, S., Gul, W., ElSohly, M., Repka, M. and Majumdar, S. (2017). Development of a Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Amino Acid-Dicarboxylate Prodrug With Improved Ocular Bioavailability. [online] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (PMC). Available at:

³D.P. Sutherland. Effect of marijuana on Essential Tremor: A case report [abstract]. Mov Disord. 2016; 31 (suppl 2).

⁴Nguyen, C., Krewenka, C., Radad, K., Kranner, B., Huber, A., Duvigneau, J., Miller, I. and Moldzio, R. (2016). THC (Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) Exerts Neuroprotective Effect in Glutamate-affected Murine Primary Mesencephalic Cultures Through Restoring Mitochondrial Membrane Potential and Anti-apoptosis Involving CB1Receptor-dependent Mechanism. Phytotherapy Research, [online] 30(12), pp.2044-2052. Available at:

⁵Hammell, D., Zhang, L., Ma, F., Abshire, S., McIlwrath, S., Stinchcomb, A. and Westlund, K. (2015). Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis. European Journal of Pain, [online] 20(6), pp.936-948. Available at:

⁶Schier, A., Ribeiro, N., Coutinho, D., Machado, S., Arias-Carrion, O., Crippa, J., Zuardi, A., Nardi, A. and Silva, A. (2014). Antidepressant-Like and Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Cannabidiol: A Chemical Compound of Cannabis sativa. CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets, [online] 13(6), pp.953-960. Available at:

⁷Devinsky, O., Cross, J., Laux, L., Marsh, E., Miller, I., Nabbout, R., Scheffer, I., Thiele, E. and Wright, S. (2017). Trial of Cannabidiol for Drug-Resistant Seizures in the Dravet Syndrome. New England Journal of Medicine, [online] 376(21), pp.2011-2020. Available at:

⁸Cannabis Use in Palliative Oncology: A Review of the Evidence for Popular Indications. (2017). [ebook] Haifa, Israel: The Israel Medical Association Journal: IMAJ, p.3. Available at:

⁹Ben-Shabat, S., Fride, E., Sheskin, T., Tamiri, T., Rhee, M., Vogel, Z., Bisogno, T., De Petrocellis, L., Di Marzo, V. and Mechoulam, R. (1998). An entourage effect: inactive endogenous fatty acid glycerol esters enhance 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol cannabinoid activity. European Journal of Pharmacology, [online] 353(1), pp.23-31. Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2017]. 

How can I be sure there are no molds or harmful substances in my medical cannabis?

Every medical cannabis product is distributed with a certificate of analysis, or COA for short.

“A COA is a verified document that provides details about the testing lab, the brand and product question, along with the potency of the ingredients the product contains. In the case of hemp, CBD and cannabis, the ingredients refer to cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBG and CBN. COAs may also include terpenes, which are the aromatic ingredients that contribute to the product’s scent, flavor and therapeutic profile.” ¹

A COA also contains information about if a batch of medical cannabis products have passed testing for heavy metals, molds, pesticides, and foreign material. An example of this is featured below:

As a medical patient you should always be able to ask a dispensary for this information. Some dispensaries, like Peake ReLeaf, can provide this information on request.

¹Schmidt, E. (2021, March 24). How to read a COA and why it’s so important. ACS Lab Cannabis. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from

TRIO-Maryland Chapter, Inc. (TRIO Maryland) is an independently chartered Maryland non-profit charitable corporation. TRIO Maryland is not associated with any individual practitioner(s) or institutional health care provider(s), Medical Cannabis Dispensary, Medical Cannabis Grower(s) or Manufacturer(s). TRIO Maryland does not recommend or endorse any specific health care provider(s), physician(s), practitioner(s), tests, procedures, products, opinions or information provided at any TRIO Maryland sponsored event, presentation, conference or on the TRIO Maryland website. The content and all information provided on the website and at individual presentations and during any event sponsored by TRIO Maryland is at the sole and individual discretion and responsibility of the presenter and TRIO Maryland assumes no liability or responsibility for said information. Please consult your transplant team before making any changes or additions to your transplant regimen.