What is THC? 6 Honest truths

Jul 18, 2023 | 0 comments

THC, which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary chemical responsible for producing the psychological effects of marijuana. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC acts similarly to the cannabinoid chemicals naturally produced by the body.

The brain contains concentrated cannabinoid receptors associated with various functions, such as thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination, and time perception. When tetrahydrocannabinol binds to these receptors, it activates them and influences a person’s memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, sensory perception, and time perception, as noted by NIDA.

tetrahydrocannabinol is just one of the many compounds present in the resin produced by the glands of the marijuana plant. These glands are more abundant around the plant’s reproductive organs than in any other area. The resin also contains other unique compounds called cannabinoids. Interestingly, the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid CBD, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, counteracts the intoxicating effects of THC and does not produce a high.

Effects of THC?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC stimulates brain cells to release dopamine, resulting in a sense of euphoria. It also affects information processing in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in memory formation.

tetrahydrocannabinol can cause hallucinations, alter thinking, and induce delusions. On average, its effects last around two hours, with onset occurring 10 to 30 minutes after ingestion. It’s important to note that psychomotor impairment may persist even after the perceived high subsides.

A.J. Fabrizio, a marijuana chemistry expert at Terra Tech Corp, a California agricultural company focused on local farming and medical cannabis, mentioned that reported side effects of THC may include feelings of elation, anxiety, increased heart rate, short-term memory recall issues, sedation, relaxation, pain relief, and more.

However, a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology suggests that other cannabinoids and terpenes, which are compounds responsible for flavor and fragrance in plants, can potentially minimize and modulate negative effects.

Is THC dangerous?

Marijuana is a popular drug with a wide range of effects. It is considered one of the most commonly used illicit drugs worldwide. However, these effects raise concerns among mental health advocates. The consumption of tetrahydrocannabinol, a component of marijuana, can potentially trigger a relapse in schizophrenic symptoms, as reported by NIDA.

Another potential risk of tetrahydrocannabinol consumption is impaired motor skills. Marijuana can impair driving ability and similar tasks for approximately three hours after use. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that marijuana is the second-most common psychoactive substance found in drivers, after alcohol. Individuals using medical marijuana are advised not to drive until their tolerance and ability to perform motor tasks have been established.

The use of marijuana may also cause issues, particularly among younger individuals and in the long term. According to Dr. Damon Raskin, medical director at Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center, tetrahydrocannabinol can lead to a decrease in IQ, memory, and cognition, especially in younger users. However, the long-term effects are still uncertain due to limited research. Some studies suggest that marijuana could impair fertility and compromise airways, but more research is needed for clear conclusions.

A study conducted by the University of Montreal in 2016 found that early marijuana use can negatively impact teens. Smokers who start around age 14 perform worse on certain cognitive tests and have a higher school dropout rate compared to non-smokers. On the other hand, those who start around age 17 do not seem to experience the same impairments.

Furthermore, NIDA reports that rats exposed to tetrahydrocannabinol before birth, soon after birth, or during adolescence exhibit difficulties with specific learning and memory tasks later in life.

It is crucial to note that marijuana can also interact with certain medications.

THC Medical benefits

Marijuana, with a history of over 3,000 years as a medicinal remedy, has gained legal acceptance in more than half of the United States by 2017. Apart from its extraction from marijuana or synthesis, tetrahydrocannabinol, the active component, finds use in the FDA-approved drug dronabinol. Dronabinol helps alleviate nausea and increase appetite in cancer patients and those with AIDS.

Research suggests that tetrahydrocannabinol, when used appropriately, offers promising medical benefits. For instance, a 2016 study on mice revealed that low doses of tetrahydrocannabinol may enhance memory. However, it is important to dispel the notion that marijuana being “all-natural” automatically implies its safety. As Raskin points out, simply because something is found in nature does not guarantee its healthiness, citing examples like poison oak.

Can you overdose THC?

Edibles – foods containing tetrahydrocannabinol – have emerged as a significant issue in states where marijuana has been legalized, primarily due to cases of overdose.

According to Raskin, one of the main reasons for these cases is that people often consume a full serving of an edible, like a cookie, instead of a smaller, recommended amount. He humorously questioned, “Who eats just half a cookie, right?” This preference for consuming edibles as opposed to inhaling them appeals to younger individuals or those who would rather avoid smoking.

Raskin also highlighted the significantly higher potency of edibles. When ingested, the drug’s effects last longer and with greater intensity compared to inhaling THC. While the effect of inhaling THC typically lasts between 45 minutes to a few hours, edibles can extend that timeframe to six to eight hours. Consequently, there is a higher likelihood of experiencing an overdose and needing to visit the emergency room.

THC concentration in marijuana

When tetrahydrocannabinol is exposed to air, it undergoes degradation and turns into cannabinol, which is another type of cannabinoid that has its own psychological effects. The concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol also varies depending on the cultivation of the marijuana plant, which is scientifically known as Cannabis sativa L.

Hemp, a specific type of cannabis, is characterized by its minimal THC content, often as low as 0.5 percent, according to the North American Industrial Hemp Council. Hemp is primarily utilized for industrial and medical purposes.

Different strains of cannabis can have varying levels of THC, ranging from as little as 0.3 percent by weight to as high as 20 percent in some samples. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the average THC concentration in marijuana is around 1 to 5 percent, while hashish contains 5 to 15 percent THC, and hashish oil generally averages around 20 percent.

It’s important to note that the THC content in recreational doses of marijuana can vary greatly, and the lower the THC content in the marijuana, the more the user needs to consume to achieve the desired effects.

CBD vs THC – Key differences

CBD and THC are derived from the same plant, yet their distinct chemical structures determine how they interact with the body. These inherent differences also result in divergent treatments within the U.S. legal system.

Chemical Structure

“From a chemistry standpoint, THC and CBD are isomers, meaning they share the same chemical formula (C21H30O2) but have different chemical structures,” explained Nick Jackowetz and Soheil Hajirahimkhan, chief scientific officer and head of research and development at Cirona Labs, a cannabinoid product developer. “CBD consists of two 6-membered rings, while THC has an additional 6-membered ring that forms through the attachment of a carbon and an oxygen atom, known as an ether bond.”

As a result, CBD and THC bind differently to the receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. This system helps regulate the central nervous system, synaptic plasticity (how neurons communicate), and the body’s response to external stressors.

The endocannabinoid system features two primary receptors: CB1, which is predominantly found in the brain and central nervous system, and CB2, which is mainly found in the immune system (with lower levels in the central nervous system). While THC tends to bind with both receptors, CBD has minimal affinity for either.


THC is commonly associated with psychoactive effects, whereas CBD is not. However, this understanding is a common misconception, according to Monique McHenry, Ph.D., director of the Medical Cannabis Center for Research and Education at the University of Vermont Medical School.

Lauren Rudick, partner of the cannabis practice at Hiller, PC, a law firm in New York, shares the same perspective. “It’s an important distinction,” she explains. CBD is psychoactive, meaning it affects the mind, but it is non-intoxicating and does not impair function.

The intoxicating “high” from THC is a result of its binding with CB1 receptors. Since CBD does not attach to CB1 or CB2 receptors like THC does, it does not produce the same intoxicating effect.

However, when CBD and THC are consumed together, CBD binds to the receptors and prevents THC from binding with them. As a result, it mitigates some of the effects felt from the THC, providing a different experience.

In the United States, hemp-derived products, including CBD products, are legal at the federal level under the 2018 Farm Bill. However, it’s important to note that these products must contain no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight basis to comply with the law. On the other hand, any cannabis products, regardless of their source being hemp or not, are deemed illegal under federal law if they contain more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.

It is worth mentioning that due to conflicting state and federal laws, as well as evolving regulations, the labeling of cannabis products often leads to confusion. A study examining 84 CBD products revealed that 69% of them had inaccurate CBD concentration labels, either overstating or understating their actual levels. Additionally, 21% of the products contained THC without proper labeling.

These factors contribute to the need for consumers to exercise caution and be well-informed when purchasing and using cannabis products.


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