National Families in Action’s Glossary

By Mahmoud ElSohly1, Member, and Michael Kuhar2, Chair, National Families in Action’s Science Advisory Board

Note: If you don’t find a term you are looking for here, please send it to with GLOSSARY in the subject line and the authors will add it to this list.

Acute – In the physiologic sense, sudden or immediate, as in the immediate or sudden actions of a drug. Acute is also referred to as the short-term effects of a drug as opposed to chronic, which are the long-term effects of the drug.

Addiction – A physiological state caused by continued use that results in craving for some substance or activity. It can be very hard to stop. Adolescent Use – Use of drugs can be especially dangerous because adolescents are vulnerable, and drugs may interfere with normal development.

Agonist – A chemical that activates a receptor and produces a physiological effect.

Analgesia – A state of feeling reduced or no pain. Drugs that reduce pain are analgesics.

Antagonist/Blocker – A chemical that blocks an agonist from activating a receptor and therefore blocks an agonist-induced physiological effect.

Appetite Stimulation – A process of stimulating appetite.

Blood Test/Levels – A blood test is an analysis that determines the levels of a substance in the blood.

Botanical – Any product derived from plant material. This includes powdered plant material (all herbs or powders of specific plant part), extracts, or semipurified fractions.

Breastfeeding and Marijuana – It is not advisable to breastfeed while using marijuana.

Buprenorphine – An important opioid medication for treating pain and opioid dependence and craving. Its molecular actions are complex in that it is a partial agonist/antagonist at mu opioid receptors. It van reduce pain but yet is less dangerous than other opioids.

Cannabinoids – These are the C21 compounds found only in the cannabis plant, and derivatives and analogues thereof. Natural cannabinoids (found in cannabis) are referred to as phytocannabinoids. These include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and

cannabidiol (CBD) along with many others (more than 100).

Cannabis – The plant source of marijuana. The genus Cannabis is a one-species genus Cannabis sativa, which is highly variable with several subspecies/varieties such as C. Sativa var. Sativa and C. Sativa var. Indica.

CBD – The abbreviation of the cannabinoid cannabidiol; a non-psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant, most abundant in the fiber type cannabis (hemp). Some formulations of CBD are FDA approved for specific medical purposes.

Cesamet – The brand name for the cannabinoid Nabilone, which is a synthetic cannabinoid with similar activity as Δ9-THC and is mainly used to control nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapies.

Chemical Analysis/Composition – A chemical analysis determines the identity of some chemical and gives its atomic composition.

Children and Marijuana – There are special concerns about the use of any drug, including marijuana, in children. They are growing and developing, and toxicity at this stage could have lifelong consequences.

Chronic – Repeated over time. A chronic smoker is someone who has smoked over a longer period of time.

Clinical Trial – An investigation involving human subjects to ascertain the safety or efficacy of a new drug.

Cognitive Impairment – An impairment of cognitive functions including concentrating, remembering, or learning.

Comorbidity – The co-occurrence of another diagnosable medical problem along with drug use. Comorbidities are important risk factors for drug use.

Compound – A chemical with a particular molecular structure. Compounds could be organic (meaning made of carbon, hydrogen, and possibly other elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, etc.) or inorganic, such as salts.

Concentrates (of Marijuana) – Extracts of the cannabis plant material made with organic solvents such as ethanol or hydrocarbons or with supercritical fluid (liquid carbon dioxide with or without modifiers). The solvents are then removed leaving behind the concentrate/extract.

Critical Tracking and Driving – A task useful for measuring driving performance, and the effects of drugs.

DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) – The agency responsible for the control of scheduled drugs and their use. Any person wishing to study a controlled substance must get permission and be registered with the DEA.

Dependence – A physiological state of frequent drug use where there is an unpleasant or sick feeling (withdrawal) when the drug is not taken.

Dietary Supplement – Substances used to add nutritional value to one’s diet and lower one’s risk of health problems such as osteoporosis or arthritis. Under some conditions they could be unsafe. They are not approved by FDA.

Dose-Response – The correlation between the degree of a biological activity and the dose of the drug. Generally, as the dose increases the activity increases, but that is not always the case.

Driving and Marijuana – Marijuana impairs judgment and driving skills and has been involved in many accidents. A DUI can be given to a driver under the influence of marijuana, even in states where it is legal.

Drugs – The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has produced a table of commonly used drugs of abuse.


Edibles – Products that are ingested by mouth are referred to as edibles.

Endocannabinoid – Cannabinoid-like chemical neurotransmitters in the body that use the cannabinoid receptors for signaling. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid.

Epdiolex – An FDA approved CBD (cannabidiol) product for the treatment of epilepsy. It is plant derived and given in sesame seed oil with flavoring and taste enhancers.

Euphoria – Feeling good.

Executive Function – Mental skills used for cognitive control of behavior. They include remembering, planning, and adapting. Drug use interferes with executive function.

FDA (Food and Drug Administration) – The Federal agency responsible for the approval of all new drugs and biologicals, and also has jurisdiction over cosmetics and tobacco.

Harm Reduction – Strategies to reduce the harm of drug use. Needle replacement is a harm- reduction strategy.

Hallucination – Sensing something that is not actually present.

Hashish – A product of the cannabis plant composed mainly of the plant’s resin and some plant particles. The cannabinoid contents of hashish are much higher than that in the original plant material.

Hemp – The fiber type of cannabis plant commonly used for the production of fiber and seeds. It contains low levels of THC and relatively high levels of CBD. The AIA (Agriculture Improvement Act) defined hemp as cannabis with less than 0.3% THC.

High – A feeling of euphoria, pleasure, and excitement produced by some drugs.

Hyperemesis Syndrome – Repeated vomiting. The condition results from the ingestion of high doses of THC. Because THC has what is known as biphasic activity (one effect at low doses and the opposite effect at high doses), it follows that low doses of THC act as an antiemetic and high doses produce emesis.

Impairment (Driving) – A state of being less than totally functional, caused by drugs, and could result in an accident.

Impurity – Components found in a drug preparation that are not supposed to be there. These could be contaminants or degradation products.

Incidence – The occurrence rate or frequency of occurring.

Individual Variation – Differences found in individuals, caused by genetics and other factors, that are the basis of differing responses to drugs.

IQ and Marijuana – There has been a suspected link between long-term marijuana use and reductions in IQ.

Labeling/Claims – Labels include any written material associated with some product. The FDA is responsible for accurate labeling.

Legalization/Decriminalization – Legalization removes all penalties associated with drug possession. Decriminalization means that the drug is still illegal, but that there is usually no prosecution for possessing a reduced amount.

Low THC Oil – A product of cannabis with low THC content (up to 5% THC) that the Georgia medical marijuana law allows people with medical marijuana cards to possess in small quantities.

Marijuana – Marijuana refers to the dried leaves and flowering tops of the drug type (high THC chemovar) Cannabis plant. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC and other similar compounds.

Marinol – The brand name for Dronabinol which is Δ9-tetra-hydrocannabinol, the main psychologically active compound in cannabis. It is currently approved for treating nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy and also for appetite stimulation of AIDs patients.

Medical Marijuana – The use of the marijuana plant for medical purposes. The plant is not FDA approved for good reasons. But some chemicals found in the plant, in very specific formulations and for specific purposes, have been FDA approved.

Memory and Marijuana – Marijuana impairs memory.

Metabolite – A chemical produced by physiological alteration or break-down of a substance.

Methadone – An opiate drug used therapeutically in some treatment programs to control craving for opioid drugs.

Nabiximols – A product manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals marketed under the name Sativex® for treatment of spasticity and multiple sclerosis. It is an oral spray containing both THC and CBD in equal amounts. It is a mixture of two extracts of Cannabis sativa (a high CBD variety extract and a high THC variety extract).

Naloxone – An opioid antagonist or blocker. It blocks or prevents the action of opioids such as morphine and heroin and is used to treat opioid overdose.

Needle Sharing – A practice of sharing needles among drug users. It promotes transmitting diseases.

Needle Replacement – A practice of replacing used needles with clean ones. It is a harm-reduction strategy.

Neurotransmitter – A chemical in the nervous system that acts as a chemical messenger, which produces an action after combining with a receptor.

Neurotransmission – The process whereby one neuron passes a signal to the next neuron. It is the fundamental process in a functioning brain. It is also fundamental to understanding the action of drugs.

NFIA (National Families in Action) – An organization that helps parents prevent drug use in children and educates the public about drugs.

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) – A part of the National Institutes of Health, charged with advancing the science of drug use and its consequences, and to use that knowledge to improve public health.

OTC (Over the Counter) – Drugs that do not require a prescription can be sold over the counter. They are controlled by the FDA.

Opioids and Marijuana – There has been an idea that marijuana can enhance or be used in place of opioids. Mixing drugs always has an increased risk.

Pain – The hurting sensation that signals a possible serious problem.

Panic – Usually a sudden, intense feeling of fear and anxiety.

Pregnancy Toxicity – Toxicity is never good, but in a pregnant person the toxicity may affect the fetus as well.

Prevention – A strategy to reduce and eliminate drug use to prevent negative consequences of drug use.

Purity – A measure of contaminants or freedom from them.

Receptor (CB1, CB2) – Receptors are the molecular sites in the brain that mediate drug and neurotransmitter signaling. The two receptors for marijuana are referred to as CB1 and CB2.the scientists answer aw about

Recreational Marijuana –The use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Certain states have passed laws allowing this.

Regulation – A rule or requirement about some occurrence or process. The use of many drugs is regulated.

Relapse – Resuming drug use after a period of abstinence. It is not a catastrophic failure but is sometimes a part of the path of recovery.

Reward System – The system in the brain that mediates feeling good. Drugs make us feel good by activating the reward system by various means.

Safe and Effective – A phrase used by the FDA indicating that a drug has met its standards for marketing.

Sativex (Nabiximols) – A cannabis based botanical drug currently approved in many countries (but not yet in the USA) to treat multiple sclerosis. It is a mixture of two cannabis extracts (THC and CBD). The drug is used as a transbuccal mucosal spray.

Scheduled Drugs – Drugs are divided into five categories. For example, schedule 1 drugs are addicting and dangerous and have no approved medical use in the USA; schedule 5 drugs have a very low addiction liability, such as cough syrup.

Secondhand Exposure – Exposure not due to direct use. For example, smoking can affect children and infants in the immediate environment of a smoker.

Seizure Disorder – A brain disorder where there is excessive excitement that causes abnormal behavior such as seizures.

Side Effects – Those effects that are not the intended therapeutic outcome. For example, opioid drugs are used for analgesia but cause unwanted constipation.

Specific Use – The FDA requires that a drug candidate be given a specific use or a specific target.

Suboxone – An under-the-tongue formulation of buprenorphine and naloxone for treating adult opioid addicts.

Syndros – An orally administered liquid formulation of Dronabinol, a pharmaceutical preparation of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is used to treat anorexia in AIDS patients and weight loss in chemotherapy.

Synthetic vs Natural – Synthetic means made in the laboratory, while natural means it is derived from a natural product (plant or animal/ organism). Chemically speaking a synthetic drug such as THC is exactly the same in all respects as natural THC. There might be regulatory differences, and the impurity profiles might be different, but the pure compounds are indistinguishable.

THC – Abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol. While there are several tetrahydrocannabinols, THC usually refers to Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. It is the constituent of marijuana that is psychoactive and addicting.

Tolerance – In reference to drug use, it is a loss of effectiveness of a drug over time with continued use. When tolerance occurs, a higher dose must be used to obtain the same effect.

Toxicity – The negative or harmful effects of substances.

Treatment – Activities designed to help a person reduce and stop drug use and find useful and productive ways to function. Treatment is not easy because addiction is a chronic relapsing disease. There are different kinds of treatment for different kinds of drug users. Treatment is proven to work if persistently continued.

Vaping – The inhaling of a vapor from e-cigarettes, for example, instead of tobacco or marijuana smoke.

Withdrawal – A physiological state that occurs when drugs are not given to an addicted individual. It is at least unpleasant and could be life-threatening.

Note: This glossary focuses on issues relevant to National Families in Action, but there are many more terms related to drugs and addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse website also lists terms and definitions that can be useful.

1 Mahmoud Elsohly, PhD, is a pharmacologist known for his work on marijuana. He is professor of pharmaceutics in the school of pharmacy at the University of Mississippi where he directs the Marijuana Project, which grows pharmaceutical-grade marijuana for research. He is an expert in the processing, testing, and detection of drugs of abuse. Dr. ElSohly serves on NFIA’s Science Advisory Board.

2 Michael Kuhar, PhD, is Candler Professor of Neuropharmacology at Emory University. His studies have focused on the cellular and anatomical bases of addiction. Among many things, he discovered the mechanism by which cocaine addicts the brain. Dr. Kuhar chairs NFIA’s Science Advisory Board.

Note – National Families in Action encourages other nonprofit drug-education organizations to post this Glossary on your webpages. Questions? Call 404-248-9676.

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