What is THC?

March 11, 2021
THC neon formula, what is THC
THC neon formula, what is THC

Pretty much everyone knows that THC is the compound in cannabis that gets you high.  But THC, whose chemical name is tetrahydrocannabinol, is a lot more than an intoxicant.  And, it’s just one of over 100 individual cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant – primarily in the sticky resinous trichomes that coat cannabis’ flower buds.

But THC whose chemical name is tetrahydrocannabinol, while it is the is the ingredient which is most responsible for the intoxication and psychological effects of cannabis/marijuana represents one of many hundreds of compounds including terpenes, cannabinoids (e.g. CBD/cannabidiol) etc. found in the resin secretions of the cannabis plant.

THC is a cannabinoid that is a bit inconsistent in its volume, depending on the plant.  In hemp, you’ll find low amounts of the cannabinoid, usually topping out around 1%.  In marijuana, amounts can range from roughly 10-25% — and, newer strains are satisfying growing demand with above 30%.  It’s safe to say that these strains can get you really high.

But, there’s still a lot that the average person doesn’t know about this fascinating plant compound, so let’s explore it more deeply than ever before.

THC – 7 Facts and Stats

Statistics about weed usage in the world is astonishing. First of all, it’s smoked everywhere in the world and we know this because:

  1. How many people use marijuana worldwide? According to statistics from the United Nations almost 4% of the world populations uses cannabis and that’s well over 150 million people. (So, you’re definitely not alone).
  2. In the US alone almost 100 million people have admitted to at least one time usage.
  3. As of 2007 usage in 12 to 17 year olds in US was 7% – not good. weed.com STRONGLY discourages underage use.
  4. The weed industry is over $50B in the US alone – when you include legal and illegal categories.
  5. Uruguay in 2013 was the first country in the world to fully legalize the growth and sale of cannabis.
  6. Cannabis has been around for almost 30 million years.
  7. 6000 years ago – at least. That’s how long our ancestors were smoking weed. Chilling in China, then the Middle East and onto the Greeks and Romans.

THC: What is it, Exactly, and What Does It Do?

While it is not produced in the body of human beings as a naturally occurring chemical, THC acts very much like the endogenous (naturally occurring) cannabinoids our bodies rely on such as anandamide, a critical neurotransmitter, and it binds to receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), offering positive effects on the brain while undeniably altering our brain function for the duration of its high.

Note: When we speak of THC facts we are normally referring to Delta 9 THC which is the most prevalent and psychoactive THC vs the lesser active and available Delta 8 THC.

Today, our views on THC have softened.  While the compound was once vilified for its mind-altering effects, we know better now, and see the true medicinal value of this gift from mother nature.  The medical marijuana industry throughout our country has proven that cannabis, with its high THC content, is a lot more than a recreational intoxicant, as we now know that the compound is loaded with potential benefits.

So, what kinds of effects can we derive from THC?

  • Mood Improvements: THC is known to improve mood, helping with symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, thanks to its valuable effect on the brain’s neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin and cortisol.
  • Better Sleep: THC is often used as a natural sleep aid, since the relaxing nature of its high, both physically and mentally, can help people feel more calm.
  • Pain Relief: THC is known for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help with muscle strains, spasms and general pain, including migraine pain and arthritis pain.
  • Nausea Relief: THC is widely known for its antiemetic effects, which can reduce nausea and actually reduce instances of vomiting.
  • Improved Appetite: The increase in appetite one gets from THC is well-known – after all, who hasn’t heard of the munchies? THC can boost appetite through its influence on serotonin uptake, as serotonin is an appetite regulator.
  • Improved Neurological Function: Many people are prescribed medical marijuana because of THC’s ability to improve neurological function, which may help with things like epilepsy.

All in all, THC’s high is described as blissful, euphoric and stress-relieving.  But, as many will tell you, taking too much of it, or taking a dose of THC as a total beginner, can lead to some side effects.  Thankfully, they’re quite temporary and ultimately harmless, but it’s worth pointing them out regardless:

  • Anxiety/Paranoia
  • Dry Mouth
  • Dry/Bloodshot Eyes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Drowsiness/Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Reduced Motor Skills

Keep in mind that THC is nontoxic to the body, so you don’t have to worry about doing major harm if you go a bit heavy-handed with some cannabis.  But, as a beginner, consider taking THC in moderation just the same, to avoid any unpleasantness.

THC Levels Keep Going Up and Up

There’s no denying that THC is one of the most in-demand plant derivatives throughout history.  And, demand keeps growing, as does the amount of THC that’s considered standard in your average cannabis bud.  This is made possible through the modern breeding methods used by today’s cultivators, which allow more predictable outcomes when crossing different strains together, paired with new methods that enable higher THC levels through modifications made to the plants’ growing conditions.

Once upon a time, the average cannabis flower contained roughly 1% THC – yes, you read that correctly.  And surprisingly, this was only a few decades ago, which seems hard to believe when 25% THC seems to be considered normal these days.  The bottom line is that today’s cannabis users want to get really high off of their buds, and the market is responding by increasing THC percentages in cannabis.

Cannabis Use in Younger People

There is good reason for serious concern over the use of marijuana for younger people, including long-term problems. Usage in the young can lead to a Decrease in IQ and Decrease in memory and cognition, especially in younger people,

A University of Montreal study published in the journal Development and Psychopathology (2016)  found that 14 year old smokers of THC containing cannabis not only did worse on cognitive tests than their non-smoking peers but also had a higher high school dropout rate. The same study found that those who started later (age 17) had no such correlations.

Another study from New Zealand showed that heavy usage of cannabis starting in the early teens led causing people who started marijuana use disorder lost 8 IQ points on average by age 38 and this loss was not fully recoverable even when they stopped smoking as adults. Conversely those who began smoking even as adults did not demonstrate significant decline in IQ).

THC: More Fascinating Than We Ever Imagined

Overall, THC is a lot more than an intoxicating substance – not that there’s anything wrong with using it mainly for that purpose.  Rich in potential benefits, this plant compound works with the human body to deliver all kinds of therapeutic uses, and that’s something that’s made clear through the growing success of the medical marijuana industry in the United States.  At the same time, it’s clearly a popular cannabinoid, as today’s consumers are seeking out more and more THC in their cannabis purchases than ever before.

Additional reading: