Recent decades have seen much progress in the identification and characterization of cannabinoid receptors and the elucidation of the mechanisms by which derivatives of the Cannabis sativa plant bind to receptors and produce their physiological and psychological effects. The information generated in this process has enabled better understanding of the fundamental physiological and psychological processes controlled by the central and peripheral nervous systems and has fostered the development of natural and synthetic cannabinoids as therapeutic agents. A negative aspect of this decades-long effort is the proliferation of clandestinely synthesized analogs as recreational street drugs with dangerous effects. Currently, the interactions of cannabinoids with their biochemical substrates are extensively but inadequately understood, and the clinical application of derived and synthetic receptor ligands remains quite limited. The wide anatomical distribution and functional complexity of the cannabinoid system continue to indicate potential for both therapeutic and side effects, which offers challenges and opportunities for medicinal chemists involved in drug discovery and development.