Buy tickets Plan your visit

Cannabis and our body

Cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system.

What is the effect of THC, cannabidiol and cannabinol on the human body?

Trichomes on a Jack Herer plant.

Trichomes. Photo: Hawoodrose.

THC molecular structure.

Photo: Hawoodrose.

“I believe cannabinoids represent a medical treasure waiting to be discovered.”

– Raphael Mechoulam, known as the Father of Cannabis Research


What are cannabinoids?

Cannabis naturally produces a number of cannabinoids, perhaps up to 100 of which are located in the trichomes, the resin glands on the female flowers. Little is known about the majority of them. The most common, and powerful, cannabinoids – therefore the best known and most widely studied– are tetrahydracannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN). 

The human endocannabinoid system

The human brain produces a neurotransmitter (an information carrier in neural pathways that transmits information from one nerve cell to another) known as anandamide, which also belongs to the cannabinoid group.

Receptors for anandamide are found throughout the human body – in the nervous system, gut, organs and especially in the brain. These ‘sensors’ send stimuli to the brain. The collective name for this network is the endocannabinoid system. The cannabinoids contained in cannabis are able to bind to these endocannabinoid receptors. This action is the basis of all the psychoactive and most of the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

Cannabinoids and side-effects

Cannabis provided medicinal and therapeutic benefits for thousands of years before its active principles were identified. The precise ratios of active ingredients in any given sample of natural cannabis may vary or represent an unknown factor, but it does not follow that this represents a danger to users of natural cannabis. On the contrary, the use of natural cannabis over such a long period without any evidence of toxic side-effects strongly indicates that this is not the case. It is impossible to suffer death or permanent damage by consuming too much on cannabis.

Natural and synthetic cannabinoids

While it is necessary to isolate and synthesise cannabinoids in order to study them, this does not mean that isolated or synthetic cannabinoids are the best forms of cannabis to administer to patients as a medicine. 

There is evidence that ingesting cannabis in its natural form can impart a greater range of therapeutic benefits than isolated cannabinoids, most likely because of the unknown factors represented by the various cannabinoids and other substances in the plant.


Visit the museum

Join the 2.000.000 visitors who preceded you.

Our unique collection is on display in two locations: a canal house in downtown Amsterdam and a Modernista palace in Barcelona.

Buy your ticket Plan your visit

Stay in touch

Museum Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest news about the museum, upcoming exhibitions and events.