Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a phytocannabinoid surrounded by a smokescreen of confusion. It is the active component in medical and recreational cannabis. It’s also responsible for the intoxicating effects consumers feel, but that’s not its only effect.
In this article, we’ll pack a bowl full of knowledge about what THC is and find out how it works, what effects it has on the body, and more.
THC, the Misunderstood Molecule
THC is primarily responsible for the intoxicating effects or high consumers experience from cannabis. There are multiple types of THC molecules. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the most popular.
Other variances of the THC molecules include the following:
- Delta▵9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the main psychoactive component found in cannabis.
- Delta▵8-tetrahydrocannabinol is less psychoactive than Delta▵9-THC.
- 11-hydroxy-▵9-tetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC) is believed to be responsible for the psychological effects of cannabis.
THC is a phytocannabinoid that is unique to the cannabis plant. The majority of this compound is located in the plant’s trichomes, the tiny hairlike follicles that cover cannabis leaves and buds. Trichomes are what give cannabis its frosty, snow-covered, blanketed-in-diamond-dust, glittery, sparkly appearance.
We get THC from mature female plants. THC is also present in male plants but not in significant enough quantities to produce noticeable effects. Male cannabis plants are only used for breeding. Our body seamlessly puts the cannabinoids that we receive from cannabis, like THC, to use upon consumption.
The human body has what is called the mammalian endocannabinoid system (ECS). Many medical professionals consider this part of our body the bridge between mind and body. The ECS facilitates healthy cellular function, communication between nerves and cells, and helps regulate and maintain homeostasis when functioning optimally.
The ECS has several receptors located throughout the body, with CB1 and CB2 receptors being the most well known. It is possible that we have a CB3 receptor, but further research is still needed. These receptors work with phytocannabinoids, like THC. Our body cannot naturally produce phytocannabinoids. When phytocannabinoids encounter the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors, magic happens. We’ll look deeper into this later in the article.
Nature gifted cannabis with the ability to produce these unique phytocannabinoids that serve a plethora of purposes. While cannabinoids aren’t essential to the growth of the cannabis plant, they are vital to that growth continuing.
Cannabinoids are very much like cannabis’ immune system. They defend the plant during growth from viruses, parasites, bacteria, and pests; ward off herbivores (except for deer; they will for sure eat cannabis plants); and tell us when THC is at its highest.
The Official Discovery of THC
Roger Adams was born Jan. 2, 1889. He attended Radcliffe College and Harvard University and was a reputable and noted chemist of his time. After the federal prohibition of marijuana began in 1937, Adams made a grand discovery. At the time, government scientists wondered what the causes of cannabis’ psychoactive effects were. They even used cannabis in an experiment as a truth serum.
Adams was technically the first to discover THC and CBD by isolating and extracting the chemical compounds. However, due to the lack of science available at the time, he was unaware of his achievement. From this point, scientists conducted tests where they injected THC into cigarettes on multiple occasions. In the 1940s, the mayor of New York Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned the New York Academy of Medicine to conduct a report on marijuana.
The 1944 LaGuardia Committee reported that marijuana systemically contradicted the claims of prohibitionists and the federal government. THC was part of the New York Academy of Medicine study, showing that people were working with THC before its official discovery.
Though the discovery of THC and CBD occurred in the ’40s, it would be nearly 25 years later before the official discovery of THC and CBD. This discovery was accredited to a scientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem named Raphael Mechoulam and a few of his colleagues.
In 1992, Mechoulam and National Institute of Mental Health researchers Dr. Lumir Hanus and William Devane discovered the first endogenous, or naturally occurring, cannabinoid in the human body called anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule,” leading to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.
Since 1964, Mechoulam has become iconic throughout the cannabis community, with many people calling him the “Godfather of Cannabis.” Though others had researched THC and even isolated the compound, no one understood what they had discovered until Mechoulam’s work.
- Phytocannabinoid – naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
- Endogenous Cannabinoid – naturally occurring cannabinoids produced by the human body.
- Trichome – tiny hairlike follicles covering cannabis leaves and buds where THC is stored.
- Endocannabinoid System – a mammalian system containing endogenous lipid-based retrograde neurotransmitters that have a binding affinity to cannabinoid receptors
- Anandamide (arachidonoylethanolamide) – molecule that imitates the activity of phytocannabinoids that interact with the mammalian endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors.
THC and How it Affects the Human Body
Since everyone has a different chemistry profile, THC affects everyone differently. But what we do know is that THC has some extremely beneficial effects and some not-so-great effects.
By interacting with the ECS, THC engages the body on a cellular level, effecting sleep, appetite, mood, sex drive, and the body’s ability to heal. Cannabinoids make their way to the cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body. When these receptors become saturated with cannabinoids, two-way communication takes place where previously little to none existed.
- CB1 Receptors – ECS receptors mainly located in the brain and spinal cord and on nerve cells. CB1 receptors may also be present in peripheral organs and tissues such as the white blood cells, endocrine gland, spleen, reproductive system, and urinary and gastrointestinal tracts.
- CB2 Receptors – ECS receptors primarily located in the tonsils, on white blood cells, and in the spleen.
Cannabis also makes its way directly to the brain. Here, cannabis plays different roles for different people. For some, anxiety and depression melt away, sleep becomes a friend, or their appetite increases. For others, THC can trigger panic attacks, intensify PTSD episodes, or cause headaches and vomiting. One might say cannabis has different strokes for different folks. But it consistently affects three particular areas of the brain.
Sections of the human brain affected by cannabis:
- The frontal cortex – where our thoughts happen. Cannabinoid receptors in this part of the brain help regulate thought patterns. THC may cause neurons to fire faster, becoming more efficient and resulting in a more free-flowing thought pattern.
- The hippocampus – found in the temporal lobe portion of the human brain and responsible for memory formation. THC may affect short-term memory in the hippocampus.
- The cerebellum – the part of the brain in charge of general coordination and movement. Some consumers experience better function, while others experience decreased function.
THC triggers increased endogenous cannabinoid production of anandamide, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. This is another attributing factor to the intoxicating effects of THC.
Although cannabis can produce intoxicating effects, essential functions take place in the background, such as cannabinoids helping the body with apoptosis and to maintain homeostasis. Overall, THC has a wide variety of effects on the body, which either occur as a direct result of THC or because of the interaction between THC and the ECS.
The Many Effects of THC
THC has many effects. Cannabis patients and recreational consumers often experience one or more of the following effects when consuming THC:
- Pain relief
- Stress reduction
- Increased appetite
- Improved mood
The Short-Term Effects of THC
Depending on the consumption method, you can feel short-term effects of THC within a few minutes to two hours. Smoking is the fastest way to feel its effects. This means smoking dried cannabis buds or flowers, dabbing cannabis concentrates, or vaping. Some feel these effects instantly, which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours depending on their tolerance and the amount they consumed.
Eating edibles is another popular way to consume cannabis. When someone eats an edible, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours for it to take effect. We’ll look more into consumption methods shortly.
Transdermal, sublingual, and topical are other methods of consuming THC that offer noticeable effects within moments.
Here are some of the main reported short-term effects of THC:
- A sense of increased energy
- Increased appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dry mouth
- Sleepy or tired feeling
- Pain Relief
- Lower body temperature
- Reduced nausea
These effects will vary from consumer to consumer but are the most commonly reported. A person who consumes THC could experience one or all of these effects within a long or short period. The intensity will also vary.
Potential Medical Benefits of THC
Cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that places like Massachusetts began criminalizing and giving cannabis a bad name. It was even part of the U.S. Pharmacopeia until 1942. Cannabis offers an abundance of medical benefits. THC, in particular, helps treat and control several medical conditions and diseases.
One of THC’s most talked about accomplishments is its ability to inhibit cancer cells and kill them. Patients who use THC as a treatment option often find that THC helps reduce inflammation, leading to pain relief. THC also helps patients going through chemotherapy maintain their appetite and high-stress patients reduce their stress levels.
- Sleep aid
- Suppresses muscle spasms
- Inhibits cancer cell growth
- Increases appetite
- Stress reduction
Throughout history, cannabis has helped treat countless conditions and symptoms.
Here are a few of the conditions that THC may help with:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis (and other similar disorders)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic pain
Cannabis is quite possibly one of, if not the most, versatile and widely misunderstood plants on the planet. Whether in food, medicine, clothing, building materials, fuel, or renewable resources, cannabis is proving that it has a place in our world. Cannabis is the most versatile medicinal plant known to man, and its main constituent (THC) is responsible for an enormous range of benefits for numerous conditions we’ve listed above.
Reported Long-Term Effects of THC
When it comes to the long-term effects of THC, we have very little research to turn to because of the U.S. government’s continued support of draconian marijuana prohibition that started in 1937. Let’s look at what reports are saying about some of the long-term effects of THC.
Regular cannabis consumers develop a tolerance to cannabis. Some smoke to stay high rather than to get high, be it for medical or personal reasons. Regularly consuming large amounts of cannabis reduces its effects. To reset your tolerance to marijuana, you may need to lower your consumption for a few days or take a tolerance break of at least 7 to 14 days.
A general lack of interest
This is a bit hard to believe. Perhaps a general lack of interest in stupid s— is a more accurate statement. Cannabis consumers tend to be laid back and fun to talk to. Not to mention, the multibillion-dollar legal cannabis industry shows a strong interest. Perhaps they simply have a lack of interest in programmed thinking.
This is a problem that comes from carcinogens present in cannabis smoke, not THC. Vaping shows promise for people with this condition by helping relax inflamed airways.
Problems for individuals who are predisposed to having psychotic disorders
This is a favorite side effect cannabis prohibitionists turn to. They believe individuals who are predisposed to mental illness and psychotic disorders should medicate with pharmaceuticals. We know how well this has worked with Paxil, Zoloft, Amitriptyline, Trazadone, and the host of other prescription drugs that have lost lawsuits. THC can trigger anxiety attacks in some people and intensify PTSD episodes according to multiple reports from the cannabis community.
This is another controversial side effect of cannabis. Anticannabis supporters like to portray cannabis consumers as lazy, jobless, slobs living at their parent’s or friend’s house rent free doing nothing to better their lives. This more fits the bill of meth, pharmaceutical, and alcohol addiction. Everyone forgets where their keys are from time to time. Just because it happens to someone who smokes weed doesn’t mean it’s because of cannabis.
Remember that, contrary to popular belief, you can overdose from THC. This very thing happened to rapper Waka Flocka Flame while attending a cannabis event in California. When you OD on weed, you will need to sleep it off. That’s right; that’s all you have to do. Opioids can kill you if you OD but not cannabis. Pharmaceuticals are known to cause organ failure too, something cannabis does not do.
The Different Methods for Consuming THC
THC has many consumption methods. Depending on the desired results you’re looking for, you will have to use different methods and consume different amounts. Some people prefer to microdose with THC. Microdosing involves taking minimal dosages throughout the day. These dosages are barely noticeable and usually do not cause intoxicating effects. For those who consume THC regularly, these are the most common methods they use:
- Smoking a joint, bowl, bong, or blunt
- Dabbing cannabis concentrates, such as shatter, wax, sauce, or budder
- Vaping cannabis is a popular option that removes the carcinogens from the leafy plant matter. Vaping heats cannabis just to the point before combustion.
- Edibles are a popular way to control your dosage. Unlike smoking, dabbing, or vaping, edibles take longer to kick in. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours for effects to take place.
- Topical applications of THC help treat several skin conditions, such as rashes and other forms of an outbreak. Topical applications of THC, like lotions and creams, are formulated to stay on the top of the skin.
- Transdermal THC patches provide relief to a direct area, such as the lower back, shoulders, neck, or knees
- Sublingual THC consumption is done by applying a cannabis-infused tincture directly under the tongue. Its effects can be felt virtually within seconds but are different from smoking or eating cannabis. Sublingual tinctures are commonly used to stop muscle spasms in epileptic patients.
Smoking is the fastest way to feel cannabis’ effects. It is also becoming the least favorite way of consuming cannabis as people become more health conscious.
THC and CBD
THC and CBD both offer a potential plethora of benefits for consumers. As people learn more about CBD and THC, the confusion surrounding this widely misunderstood plant called cannabis will be eliminated. Medical professionals are starting to adopt cannabis as a legitimate medicine once again. THC and CBD have many medical benefits and come from cannabis, yet they are very different.
THC produces the intoxicating high that cannabis is notorious for, whereas CBD has no intoxicating effects. CBD is found in hemp as well as in medical cannabis. CBD products that are available anywhere in the United States are ones produced from hemp containing no THC. CBD and THC are changing the way we look at medicine today.