What Is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is probably the best-known cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. THC is the psychoactive, intoxicating, and mind-altering compound that is most commonly associated with the high people experience when consuming marijuana.
But, scientific analysis and research have suggested that THC may be capable of more than just making users feel “elevated.”
Here’s what you need to know about THC and how it may be able to benefit you.
What Is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was first discovered and isolated in 1964 by Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam. It is one of over 100 phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant (CBD is another). Phytocannabinoids are chemically similar to the endocannabinoids produced by your body, and are able to exert their effects on the body’s endocannabinoid system because of this.
THC is structurally similar to CBD but works differently. THC works by mimicking the effects of the neurotransmitter anandamide, also known as “bliss molecule,” and 2-AG, an endocannabinoid believed to be linked to antidepressant effects of physical exercise. These substances are produced naturally by the body and control and regulate a wide range of bodily functions. THC attaches itself to cannabinoid receptors in the body to produce cerebral, relaxing effects.
THC is created from tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) through a process called decarboxylation. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is like the raw version of THC. When marijuana is exposed to heat, say a flame, or UV light, the THCA is broken down into the new, slightly different compound known as THC.
When you smoke marijuana, you decarboxylate the THCA—turning it into THC—when you take a lighter to the marijuana buds.
While THC is most known for its intoxicating effects, it is also recognized for its therapeutic benefits.
What Are the Benefits of THC?
While cannabidiol (CBD) often gets the glory for its potential medical benefits, it appears THC also has a lot to offer.
In a recent review, researchers examined self-reported data from 3000 cannabis users who were using THC to relieve the painful symptoms of various conditions and diseases. The review found that THC was widely reported to provide symptom relief, even stating,
“Despite recent advocacy for the benefits of CBD over THC, the vast majority of observational studies showing an association between patient-managed cannabis use and improvements in symptoms…relied on public or commercially available cannabis that has been hybridized for high THC and low CBD contents, thus suggesting that THC may be an important determinant of user outcomes.”
While there are several external factors that may have influenced these results, they do, at the very least, seem to indicate that THC does have its own medical benefits.
While many claims are made about the medicinal benefits of THC, the science, in most cases, is not yet expansive enough to draw definite conclusions. As such, this section will address only the most researched and widely accepted benefits of THC.
THC for Chronic Pain and Inflammation
THC has been shown to suppress the body’s immune response and reduce inflammation. In studies performed on mice, THC was found to trigger apoptosis, or cell death, in T cells and dendritic cells, ultimately reducing inflammation.
Research has also found that cannabinoids like THC and CBD downregulate, or suppress, cytokine production. Cytokines are small proteins produced and released by immune cells in response to trauma or stress. By preventing the production of cytokines, cannabinoids can prevent inflammation before it begins.
Inflammation not only plays a significant role in a number of human illnesses, it can also play a significant role in the experience of pain. For example, chronic joint pain is typically caused by an inflammatory response in which the body attacks its own cells. Also, the pain and discomfort experienced by those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be tracked back to chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. By reducing inflammation, THC may also be able to reduce the experience of pain.
THC for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
In two recent reports, THC was found to be effective at treating patient-reported pain and spasticity in multiple sclerosis sufferers.
In fact, Sativex is a pharmaceutical medication that has been approved in several countries for the treatment of MS. The primary active ingredients in Sativex are THC and CBD.
THC for Nausea and Vomiting
THC is able to reduce nausea and vomiting, making it effective for use in treating the side effects of many medical treatments like chemotherapy.
This is not new information. Several medications that either contain THC isolate or a synthetic THC have been approved for use in stopping nausea. Marinol, for example, is a synthetic THC that has been in use as an antiemetic since 1985!
THC for Neuroprotection
Studies have made tentative links between early cannabis use and cognitive development issues in adolescents. This results of this research should not be overlooked, and could be compared to the effects of alcohol on the adolescent brain.
Interestingly though, THC may also possess neuroprotective properties.
A 2014 study found that people with THC present in their body were significantly less likely to die from a traumatic brain injury.
Overactivity of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter released by nerve cells in the brain, can cause cell damage and cell death. This glutamate toxicity can be mitigated by antioxidants, which are found in high quantities in marijuana. Furthermore, CBD and THC were found to prevent oxidative damage to brain neurons better than other antioxidants.
How to Use THC
With so many cannabis products on the market, there is no shortage of ways to use THC.
But before you start shopping, it is important that you understand the cannabis laws that exist in your state. If you live in a state where cannabis is legal for recreational consumption, shopping for a THC product will not be an issue. You’ll just need to meet the legal age requirement (e.g. in California, 21 years or older) to be eligible to purchase marijuana. For people in states with more restrictive cannabis laws, it’s important to read up on whether cannabis is legal for medical purposes only, or if it’s not legal for consumption at all.
Once you have determined that you are legally allowed to purchase THC, speak to your doctor. Involving your doctor in the process will ensure that you use THC as safely as possible and that it is the right option for you. While largely harmless, smoking marijuana or using THC-infused products could produce unwanted effects, like anxiety and paranoia, for certain people.
One of the best ways to use THC is to take advantage of the entourage effect with a full-spectrum CBD oil. These products will contain the full range of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids found in the cannabis plant. In other words, you will receive the maximum benefits of the whole hemp plant. Also, the calming, anti-anxiety effects of CBD could help offset the feelings of anxiousness sometimes caused by THC.
The most common way to take THC is by smoking marijuana flower or vaping cannabis oil. These methods are familiar and provide near-immediate results. Keep in mind, because cannabis oil contains concentrated amounts of THC, the effects will be much stronger than those produced from smoking flower. If you’re just starting out, consider cutting your teeth on marijuana flower so you can get an idea for how THC affects you before diving into something more potent like cannabis oil.
If you’re not a smoker or prefer a more discreet THC delivery method, there are cannabis capsules and edibles at your disposal. Capsules and edibles will take a while to show effects, so if you decide to go this route, allow at least an hour before taking more. While it’ll take longer for the effects to set in, those produced by an edible or capsule typically last much longer than those produced by smoking. Edibles are notorious for sneaking up on people, so start with as low a dose as possible and then work your way up from there.
For most people, microdosing with THC will be the way to reap the most benefits. Taking a microdose can enable you to experience the subtle benefits of this cannabinoid without losing any cognitive function. There are products designed specifically for microdosing THC (e.g. teas, capsules, tinctures), which you’ll want to consider using if you’ve never microdosed or consumed cannabis before.
If you found this article helpful, you may also be interested in:
- Terpenes 101: CBD Oil, the Entourage Effect, and More
- CBD Oil Microdosing: Everything You Need to Know
- What Is the Difference Between THC and CBD?
- What Are Cannabinoids?