Cannabinoids Research

What is THC? The Cannabis Plant’s Most Abundant Compound

what is THC
Written by Joseph Mcqueen

The cannabis plant is beautiful but complex. For centuries it was left untouched by humanity, growing freely in all corners of the world, before suddenly it was being used for hemp raw materials, spiritual ceremonies and enjoyment. One of the prominent cannabinoids within cannabis is THC, which gives the well-known high effect that many desire. But how much do you actually know about THC? We’re going to be taking you through its traits, the way it works on the body and how the rest of the world views it. Let’s go. 

THC

THC, also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the more dominant cannabinoids within the cannabis plant. There are over 500 discovered compounds inside cannabis, around 100 of these are cannabinoids. These are responsible for the effects that the user experiences. There are also over 100 terpenes within the plant, these are what give it its flavor and aroma. As more nations begin legalizing the substance, there is far more research being done to fully understand it.

To put it simply, THC is the psychoactive chemical that causes the majority of the effects that come from consuming cannabis. Psychoactive cannabinoids have mind-altering effects, whereas some do not. The plant secretes resin containing the cannabinoids through the glands, and this is where the ‘high’ derives from. 

Differences to CBD

The other prominent cannabinoid within the plant is CBD, also known as cannabidiol. It is derived from the hemp plant, which is like a close cousin of marijuana – which contains mostly THC. Funnily enough, the two cannabinoids have the same chemical structure. This includes 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms and 2 oxygen atoms. However, the ways in which they are arranged is what makes them intrinsically different. This difference means that CBD is not psychoactive, whereas THC is. In essence, CBD does not have mind-altering effects like its cousin. There is no high.

However, it is still used commonly in medical cannabis practices, due to its relaxing effects on various physical and mental ailments. Due to the fact that CBD is not used recreationally, it has been legalized in the majority of the world. CBD edibles and beverages are everywhere these days. However, THC has been a much slower burner. The specific way it works on the body – triggering the well-known ‘high’ – has made it unpopular and harder to legalize. 

Cannabinoids 

There are over 100 cannabinoids within the cannabis plant, and more are being discovered frequently. Some of these include: THC, CBD, THCa, CBDa, CBN, CBC, THCV and many others. Most cannabinoids do not get you high, but this does not mean they do not all combine together to create certain effects. Even CBD – whilst not psychoactive – will influence the way that THC reacts with the endocannabinoid system in the body. As more research is being done, newer products containing less common cannabinoids are being released.


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For instance, Binoid have products that contain THCV, which is supposed to be stronger than THC. The world of cannabinoids might seem overly confusing, but really it is just an example of a bunch of lab coats messing around with the structures of the cannabis plant to see how it changes its effects. The important thing to remember is that cannabinoids need to be heated in the decarboxylation process in order to be activated. This is how THCa becomes the psychoactive THC. Without this process, cannabis is basically inactive. 

THC and the Body

All cannabinoids work on the body in mostly the same way. However, it is their individual traits and chemicals that will trigger different reactions. The endocannabinoid system – which are cannabinoid receptors – are located in different areas of the body. When cannabis is consumed, the cannabinoids bind to these receptors and activate changes in their memory, pleasure, concentration, time perception and overall senses.

THC links specifically to receptors in the brain, which controls mood, appetite and other feelings. CBD, on the other hand, works mainly on the body, causing relaxation. As the THC stimulates the cells, it triggers dopamine release, which can create feelings of euphoria. The effects it has on the receptors can also cause some hallucinations, depending on potency. Here are the common effects or feelings of THC:

Positive Effects

  • Euphoria
  • Deep thoughts
  • Motivation
  • Pain relief
  • Relaxation 
  • Giggliness
  • Inventiveness

Negative Effects

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea 
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion 
  • Concentration issues
  • Tiredness
  • Paranoia 

Is THC Dangerous?

Like with any substance, moderation is crucial. There have been cases where the overuse of THC has caused problems. First of all, smoking any substance can damage your lungs and major organs. Combustion, the process of lighting a joint, releases dangerous toxins and cancerous carcinogens into the body. However, if you vape your cannabis, you avoid the process of combustion.

This makes it far healthier for you. Consuming cannabis through edibles is also an even healthier option. There have been cases where the over consumption of THC has caused mood swings, anxiety and dependency. It is always important to keep track of your feelings when using cannabis, in order to fully know how it’s impacting your everyday life. 

Medical Benefits

Whilst THC gives users the desired ‘high’ they want, it also is being used more and more in medical practices for the benefits it has. The way it works on the endocannabinoid system can also help massively with physical and mental pains. The FDA in the US have approved two synthetic formulations of THC that can be used to treat certain ailments. Nabilone and Dronabinol are both used for treating cancer symptoms and pains. THC can help with a variety of issues:

  • Pain
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Appetite loss
  • Sickness
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Glaucoma 

Potency of THC in Cannabis

A lot of people wonder how much THC is in a normal batch of cannabis. Well, of course it depends on where you’re buying it from. In Amsterdam or California, where their market is booming and full of variety, there is a great deal of choice. However, if you’re in a country that has yet to legalize THC, the chances are you’ll be scraping the barrel of whatever’s available. It also depends on how you’re consuming the cannabis – the percentage of THC in flower buds will be a lot less than in concentrates.

Buds

Cannabis buds are the common way of smoking or vaping THC. It usually takes around 2-10 minutes to feel the effects, and this can last around 1-3 hours. It is usual for a batch of bud to contain around 15-20% THC.  

Concentrates

Concentrates are made by using heat and force to extract the potent parts of cannabis from the bud. The likes of wax, resin, budder – are all concentrates. These are usually smoked or vaped also, but they can be much stronger. The average concentrate will have a THC percentage of anywhere from 50-80%. 

Edibles 

Edibles, like cookies or cakes, contain infused cannabis. These go through the digestive system, which takes longer for the THC to have its effects. It can take up to 1-2 hours, but it can last around 6 hours. These are usually done in mg of THC contained. The usual amount in a single dosage is around 15-20 mg. 

Is THC Legal?

In the last decade, cannabis has been legalized in many countries and states. 21 out of the 50 states in the US have now legalized the use, sale, production and cultivation of THC. In Europe, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Malta and soon to be Germany have all changed their views too. Canada is another nation that has fully accepted the plant. However, there is still much of the world that has yet to approve THC as a legal substance. Nations like India, China, the UK, France, Spain, Russia and many others are still resisting. But for medical practices – mainly involving CBD and no more than 0.3% THC – most of the world has legalized it. It seems evident that the tide is changing towards the full legalization of cannabis around the world, but it may take a decade or so more before this materializes. 

Products to Try

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Conclusion

Cannabis is a plant that has a plethora of benefits of effects. Fortunately, as more nations change their views on the substance, more of these benefits are being released. THC is one of the main elements of this. Whilst it does cause the ‘high’ that everyone loves, it also has medicinal purposes too. Although, like with any psychoactive drug, it should be taken with knowledge and mindfulness. Hopefully – as the tide changes – THC will one day be a cannabinoid that is accessible everywhere.

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About the author

Joseph Mcqueen

Joseph is a cannabis journalist in the UK. His search and love for the truth in the cannabis industry is what drives him to write.

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