By Michael Kahn, Contributing Writer,

Cannabis is just a plant – a controversial plant, but a plant nonetheless. However, this humble plant increasingly looks to be at the heart of the next great investment: marijuana stocks.

On the federal level, marijuana, hemp and all types of cannabis plants and their products remain illegal. However, the tide here is turning, and several states already consider medicinal and even recreational use as legitimate and lawful within their borders.

And as that movement expands, there will be increasing opportunities in the publicly traded companies that call the industry home.

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Why Cannabis Is Exploding

The cannabis plant produces more than 100 compounds (called cannabinoids), though most people know about just one. THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive component that gets the user high. That is the drug that launched a counter-culture and the government campaign against it. It is also the recreational component.

Those a bit more advanced in their cannabis terminology know about the medicinal component called CBD, short for cannabidiol, and it has virtually no psychoactive component at all. It does not get anyone high. Rather, it works with the human body to ease symptoms of disease and aging.

Both compounds work with receptors in the human (and mammalian) nervous system. Not surprisingly, these receptors have the name endocannabinoid system (ECS), which regulates day-to-day bodily functions.

The name is a bit of a chicken-and-egg story here because ECS receptors are perfect matches for phytocannibinoids naturally contained in the cannabis plant. And when the human body does not produce adequate amounts of its own ECS neurotransmitters, the plant supplements what is already there.

The distinction between cannabinoids that get you high and cannabinoids that help you heal is huge. In fact, making the public aware of this is one of the callings of CB1 Capital, a money manager specializing in cannabis-based, publicly traded investments.

Scientists already know the cannabinoids found in cannabis are identical in action to what our bodies produce. They also believe that a decline in the ECS is probable as we age, which may be responsible for a host of currently unaddressed medical conditions.

Todd Harrison, founder and chief investment officer of CB1 Capital, who also founded Minyanville Media and previously was a hedge fund trader, says the perception of cannabinoids in the public arena is wrong. Cannabis is an ingredient that will end up in many mainstream products that people use.

“Legal weed,” as some call it, has the wrong connotation. “Tomorrow’s cannabis consumer won’t just smoke it; they’ll drink it, eat it, rub it on, take it as a pill, or wear it as a patch. They’ll take bubble baths in it.”

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CB1’s head of research, Loren DeFalco, knows this firsthand; he says he cured himself of a seizure condition using CBD and hemp plant seeds. The question is why are such treatments still in the shadows?

They may not be for long. Two studies published recently in the American Medical Association’s peer-reviewed journal now show that cannabis for pain is safer than opioids, and opioid use is lower when there is an alternative to offer.

Several states have already legalized medical marijuana, and some – including California with its 39 million people and huge economy – went fully legal at the beginning of this year. New York state Democrats endorsed marijuana legalization at their May convention. And just this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) told police to end arrests for marijuana use in public.

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act to protect states that legalize marijuana from federal interference. The president himself said he would probably support a bipartisan bill that would return decision-making on marijuana laws to the states.

And Canada just became the first G7 country and only the second country in the whole world to legalize cannabis at the federal level.

The tipping point will come when people realize CDB is actually good for them. It will happen when the medical community catches up with the science. Harrison and DeFalco said that just 1 in 10 medical programs study the endocannabinoid system, largely because cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug and off-limits to research.