Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the most popular chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. For years, growers have bred marijuana strains with increasingly higher levels of THC, the molecule that gets users high. Users experience heightened sensory perceptions, improvements in mood, appetite stimulation, reduced pain sensitivity and inflammation, and many more therapeutic effects.
Studies have shown that chemical compounds called cannabinoids in marijuana interact positively with each other in what is known as “the entourage effect.” The two most popular cannabinoids are THC and cannabidiol (CBD) which has similar effects to THC without the “high.” Even on its own, THC has been able to help many people de-stress, relax, and improve their quality of life.
How THC Can Affect The Body
The cannabis plant consists of more than 80 cannabinoids, each with varying and complementary effects to each other. The body naturally produces compounds similar to cannabinoids called endocannabinoids for normal functioning.
One endocannabinoid, called anandamide, affects areas in the brain that control pleasure, focus, movement, memory, and time and sensory perception. Because THC has a similar chemical composition to anandamide, THC can attach itself to cell receptors in the body, but primarily in the brain, and alter brain communication.
How Cannabis Produces THC
Cannabinoids are primarily found on the cannabis flowers, but also on leaves and stems. THC, however, is not found on the raw cannabis plant. For this reason, people can’t experience psychoactive effects when consuming raw cannabis. THC exists as its acidic precursor compound, called THCA.
Cannabinoid acids must be decarboxylated, or activated, by being heated. Heating can occur when cannabis has been left out in the sun, in room temperature heat, or via smoking and vaping cannabis.
What are the Effects of THC?
After THCA has been decarboxylated or heated, it converts to THC. When consumed, THC enters the bloodstream and affects the brain. By assuming the role of anandamide, THC can, for example, release more dopamine to elicit feelings of euphoria. This can help patients suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders.
THC can also reduce activity in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory formation and retention. This function has helped people with PTSD reduce frightening memories.
THC has sedating effects making some people feel relaxed and drowsy. THC has been used to induce sleep for people who suffer from insomnia. Patients have used THC to treat pain and inflammatory conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and other chronic pain conditions.
Acute pain like headaches and migraines have also been alleviated by THC. In some patients, THC has been used to stimulate appetite and aid with nausea. New research continues to uncover the far-reaching effects of THC
Side Effects of THC
Despite having little conclusive evidence, smoking THC has been shown to worsen respiratory conditions including bronchitis. This is due to the combustion of charred plant material than the actual consumption of THC.
Some patients with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can exhibit paranoia or psychosis after using cannabis. Even first-time users can consume too much THC and feel dry mouth, dry eyes, headaches, and anxiety. These symptoms subside after a few hours.
THC content and effects will vary by marijuana strain and person. Other cannabinoids and chemical compounds found in marijuana can alter the effects. For example, THC products that contain CBD can create a more balanced experience that some users prefer. Although there is no perfect strain or product for every person, users can experiment to find which strain or product provides the desired THC effects.