THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)

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THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)

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Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a psychoactive and intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis. The best-known cannabinoid in cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol that is able to induce a variety of psychological and sensory effects, including increased sensory awareness, mild reverie, euphoria and some therapeutic benefits.

Delta 9 THC Molecule

What does THC stand for?

The main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, THC, stands for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

 

What is THC?

Responsible for the cannabis “high”, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is by far the most well-known cannabinoid. While this definition is complicated by what we know about the effects of other cannabinoids, it’s mostly accurate.

THC is still arguably the most famous cannabinoid, although in recent years cannabidiol (CBD) has received more attention for it’s therapeutic potential. It’s the primary psychoactive component in cannabis although not solely responsible for the psychoactive effects.

 

How THC works

Understanding the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a system of cannabinoid receptors, lipids and enzymes that plays a critical role in maintaining internal regulatory balance, is required to fully understand how THC works in the body and mind. Homeostasis is the term used when our bodies achieve this balance. The ECS consists of three main components: “messenger” molecules, or endocannabinoids, that our bodies produce, the receptors these molecules bind to and the enzymes that break them down. The main receptors of the ECS are CB1 and CB2. Activated when THC binds to them, which can cause THC intoxication and other cerebral effects, CB1 receptors are found mainly in the central nervous system.

 

The relationship between THC and CBD

The other most well-know cannabis compound, cannabidiol (CBD), binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. It’s pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects may be the result of several other receptor pathways, since it doesn’t intoxicate like THC does. CBD is the inverse agonist to THC’s agonist, inducing the opposite cellular response as THC at the molecular level.

CBD and THC don’t necessarily cancel one another’s effects when used together, even though technically they induce opposite responses. By minimizing the undesirable side effects like a rapid heartbeat and anxiety, CBD seems to improve the enjoyable and therapeutic effects .

CBD’s ability to curb the possibly negative side effects of THC has been revealed in several studies. According to studies from 2010 onward, CBD minimizes THC’s negative effects on memory. Cannabis users with higher CBD intake had better recall memory than users whose cannabis had no CBD, as demonstrated by a 2012 study . Studies on THC-related paranoia , dependence potential and anxiety have given similar results.

CBD allows people to tolerate higher doses of THC, resulting in better health outcomes , due to its ability to counteract adverse THC side effects.

 

What are the effects of THC?

The term “entourage effect” (or “ensemble effect, as some cannabis experts prefer ) is something you may have heard. We can use the term to describe the way cannabinoids magnify the effects of one another, even though it typically refers to the way cannabis terpenes enhance the desired effects of cannabinoids.

Containing a full spectrum of terpenes and cannabinoids, each supplying a unique contribution to the therapeutic effect such as inflammation, whole-plant cannabis or cannabis extracts typically have a greater medicinal value than THC or CBD isolates .

 

Recreational effects

There’s simply no substitute for the THC in cannabis when it comes to recreational effects. Its euphoric effects are the main reason for its popularity among cannabis users and it remains the most sought-after cannabinoid.

We normally think of THC as the stuff that gets you “high”. THC is certainly the main player when it comes to recreational effects. There are a full spectrum of effects that THC is responsible for though. You may have experienced one or more of the following THC effects depending on how your brain and body respond:

Euphoria/Intoxication

Cannabis intoxication can be observed by both its differences from and similarities to the intoxicating or euphoric effects of other substances, and it is arguably THC’s most sought after recreational effect. Absorbing, euphoric and typically occupying both mind and body are all ways to describe cannabis intoxication. Cannabis intoxication doesn’t increase aggression, unlike alcohol intoxication. According to a 2016 study published in the German journal Psychopharmacology, in fact, it may even decrease aggression .

Relaxation/Sedation

THC can be a strong sedative depending on individual reaction and dosage. THC is often relaxing and sometimes sleep-inducing, as part of a whole-plant product or in small to moderate doses. You can expect more of a stimulating effect from moderate to high doses of THC. Of course, both the energizing and sedative effects will vary person to person .

Altered consciousness/perception of the world

Highly valued among cannabis users is the altered state of consciousness generally associated with THC. Even though THC is far from the only psychoactive component of cannabis, both medical cannabis patients and recreational users have benefited from the way cannabis alters perception.

Athletic enhancement

THC may provide certain benefits for athletes, even though not all athletic activities are conducive to cannabis use. Improving recovery after workouts or injuries are perfect for THC’s pain-killing and anti-inflammatory properties. THC’s psychoactive effects may provide a different type of mental resource that enables athletes to get through a tough workout, though there is little evidence to support the ability of THC to directly improve athletic performance . By incorporating THC into an endurance sport athletes may be boosting the “runners high” which involves activity at the CB1 receptor .

Sexual and Social enhancement

A socially energizing reputation is carried by many THC-heavy strains. Claiming to harness THC’s ability to increase physical sensitivity and induce a relaxed, fluid mental state, the marketplace is seeing an explosion of cannabis-related sexual wellness products. Brain imaging studies have shown that cannabis can enhance libido , and it could possibly be a good therapy for individuals with low sex drive, although the effectiveness of these products is still unknown.

Others

Complex and wide effects from THC are reported by users. Throughout human history cannabis has been used in spiritual and religious traditions – possibly because of the way THC enhances our senses. A more powerful experience in nature or a new appreciation of art may be facilitated by these same effects.

 

Medical uses of THC

While THC may be the star of recreational cannabis effects, that doesn’t mean it isn’t also medicinal. Reinforced by the growing legal cannabis industry, our cultural framing of THC as recreational may have limiting effects on the way we understand and apply THC medicinally. THC is far from lacking in medicinal value, whether alone or as part of a whole cannabis product.

Pain relief

Cannabis is effective and safe for the relief of chronic pain in adults , as demonstrated by a January 2017 review of more than 10,000 studies in humans. All treatable with cannabis are pain from damage to the nervous system and tissue damage and inflammation . Effective as both a neuroprotective antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory , there’s no doubt how effective THC can be in a pain relief role. Activation of CB1 receptors in a region of the brain critically involved in controlling pain throughout the body, in large part, responsible for THC’s ability to relieve pain. If THC can get into the bloodstream, and into this part of the brain, profound pain relief is more likely to happen.

Appetite stimulation

AIDS and cancer research has taught us most of what we know about THC and appetite stimulation. We learn that THC may stimulate appetite by interacting with appetite hormones such as leptin and ghrelin , which are involved in regulating food intake , through the development of medical cannabis as a treatment for AIDS and cancer-related weight loss. Much more research is required to fully understand how THC promotes appetite, since food intake, metabolism and energy are very complex processes.

Anti-emetic

Reducing nausea and vomiting is something the endocannabinoid system can play an active role in reducing. THC has been shown to be very effective in reducing nausea and vomiting in cancer patients going through chemotherapy by research, such as the 2011 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

Muscle spasticity

Cannabis can be effective in treating muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) as shown by several studies . According to a 2007 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology THC has shown potential to rapidly decrease the strength and frequency of MS-related muscle spasms . THC may also be effective in treating neuropathic pain associated with MS according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Neurology.

Addiction treatment

THC may have some potential to reduce the abuse potential of other substances, even though THC is itself a rewarding substance. THC has been show to diminish the consumption of heroin in animal models. Whole plant cannabis and THC seem to increase the likelihood than a person will remain in treatment for opioid use disorder. THC reduces individuals’ motivation to consume other rewarding substances is one theory.

THC and/or cannabis may provide additional harm-reduction benefits, such as giving individuals with substance use disorder a non-lethal intoxicating alternative to more dangerous drugs, beyond these pharmacological effects. There is promising evidence that cannabis may prevent other drug abuse entirely since, of course, the best treatment for addiction is prevention.

Metabolic

Cannabis users tend to have lower rates of fatty liver disease , lower rates of diabetes and a lower body mass index (BMI) than those that don’t use cannabis. Animal studies have verified that THC plays a key role in the prevention of diet-induced obesity , although it’s unclear how much of cannabis’ other constituents influence these effects.

Endocannabinoid deficiency

Endogenous cannabinoid deficiency is essentially a condition where the body doesn’t produce enough of its own cannabinoids, resulting in imbalance in many homeostatic processes such as digestion and pain regulation. Diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and fibromyalgia make a compelling argument for a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system. It makes sense that cannabinoids may be making up for deficiencies in the body, since whole-plant cannabis and THC alleviate the symptoms of these diseases.

 

Side effects and warnings

THC has the undeniable potential to produce adverse side effects since it’s a potent cannabinoid. Your unique endocannabinoid system influences your response to THC and other cannabis compounds. Nine variations of the CB1 receptor gene have been discovered by scientists opening the door for varied responses to THC, for instance. Not everyone will experience the same side effects or the same level of adverse side effects associated with THC, in other words.

Intoxication

THC can cause unpleasant, if only temporary, physical and mental impairment, although this may also be THC’s most desirable, and certainly most sought-after quality. While it can impair a person’s ability to perform certain tasks safely, its intoxication isn’t dangerous in and of itself. Of course, users shouldn’t drive while under the influence of THC.

Rapid heart rate

People generally experience an increase in blood pressure and heart rate after consuming a cannabis-based product, which may come as a surprise to new or infrequent cannabis users. By trying low-THC strains, or products that are well-balanced by CBD, which offsets this effect, users who want to avoid a rapid heart rate, or need to for medical reasons (for instance, being on certain kinds of blood pressure medication), can do so.

Paranoia

A feeling of paranoia or anxiety can frequently accompany a high dose of THC because the brain interprets a rapid heart rate as a fight or flight response. If they experience cannabis-related paranoia, users may want to avoid high-THC strains. Playing a role in determining if THC will produce or alleviate anxiety are previous cannabis use, pre-existing health conditions and genetics. As users develop tolerance to the effects of THC, it’s common for paranoia to lessen over time. People can overcome paranoia and reap the medical benefits of THC by starting at a low dose, and increasing slowly over time.

Red eyes

Red, bloodshot eyes are one of the most common side effects, and telltale signs of smoking cannabis. It typically takes from five to ten minutes for users’ heart rates to return to normal and for blood pressure to begin to decrease after consuming cannabis. Resulting in the eyes turning red, lower blood pressure leads to the dilation of blood vessels and capillaries, including ocular capillaries. The amount of THC you consume determines the amount your blood pressure is lowered and how red your eyes become. Typically only lasting a few hours, cannabis-induced eye redness is a harmless side effect.

Munchies

Whether by increasing sensory sensitivity (i.e. food tastes better ) or increasing your motivation to eat , CB1-agonists like THC can amplify appetite and hunger signals in the brain, as shown by several studies. Patients who suffer from cachexia (wasting syndrome), cancer, or other types of appetite impairment commonly seek out this side effect.

 

What to do if you consume too much THC

It’s possible to consume a dose of THC that results in unpleasant, unwanted side effects, even though it’s impossible to have a lethal or even long-term debilitating overdose from cannabis. Too much THC may produce symptoms of paranoia, vomiting, panic, nausea, emotional distress, dysphoria and physical discomfort. When a user ingests an edible cannabis product is when “overdose” is most likely to occur. This is due to the fact that when THC passes through the digestive system, it’s broken down by enzymes in the liver. The liver then turns Delta-9 THC into 11-hydroxy THC, which is a far more potent activator of the CB1 receptor.

Try to remain calm, first of all, if you experience intense THC overdose symptoms. Always temporary, the sensation of panic is very common. Depending on the method and amount of THC consumed, symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Try a calming distraction for your mind such as watching TV or listening to soothing music while waiting for the symptoms to calm down. To rehydrate and reduce dry mouth symptoms, take small sips of water.

 

Who should avoid THC?

Particularly in high doses, people with cardiac conditions and people at risk for psychosis should generally avoid THC. Those under the required age in their province should at the very least obtain the advice of a qualified physician before consuming THC.

 

The pharmacological history of THC

Raphael Mechoulam and Yechiel Gaoni first discovered delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Israel in 1964. They were able to identify the THC chemical properties as well as its psychotropic properties.

Successfully isolating tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), a precursor that turns into THC when exposed to heat in 1965 was Professor Friedhelm Korte of the University of Boon in Germany in 1965. Mechoulam and Gaoni produced the first total synthesis of THC from hashish that same year.

Classifying cannabis as a Schedule I drug, or a substance with no accepted medical potential and a high potential for abuse, the United States passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 which severely limited the amount of clinical research that could be done on THC and other cannabinoids.

 

The THC boom

Cannabis strains produced higher and higher percentages of THC as underground growers of the 1980s and ’90s entered an era of extensive crossbreeding for more potent yields. Playing a massive role in creating the high-THC strains and cannabis products that most consumers encounter today was incremental legalization. The average THC to CBD ratio was 14:1 in 1995 but it jumped to 80:1 by 2014 according to a 2014 report published by the Society of Biological Psychiatry .

 

THC products

Flower

Referring to the smokable, trichome-covered part of a female cannabis plant, flower is a general term. Due to it versatility; the fact that it can be smoked in a bong or pipe or rolled into a blunt or joint, flower is the most popular form of cannabis. High THC strains are the most widely sought after and highly valued on the market today. The following categories may be useful if you’re shopping for cannabis flower and mostly interested in getting the right THC percentage for you needs:

Type III – Novice & medical

Generally popular with patients and newcomers to cannabis, these are strains with low amounts of THC. ACDC and Cannatonic are examples of popular strains with low THC.

Type II- Functional high/daytime use

A mixed ratio of THC and CBD are offered by Type II strains. Examples of strains with a THC:CBD ratio that typically results in a “functional high” are Ancient Art, Goji DC and Astral Works. The THC provides substantial medical benefit but intoxication is minimal or manageable which is what makes these types popular amongst medical users.

Type I – Functions affected/seasoned user

Currently making up more than 80% of the cannabis market, these potent strains contain a minimum of 20% THC. Consumer demand will likely gradually shift away from these products as less potent varieties become common since these market forces are likely a carryover from the prohibition days.

Isolate

Extractions of a single cannabinoid are called cannabis isolates. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) has become more commonly available in isolate form. THCA isolate only becomes intoxicating when heated, which turns it into active THC.

Concentrates

When the more desirable properties of cannabis, namely terpenes and cannabinoids, have been separated from the rest of the plant matter and are concentrated or distilled, these are called concentrates. Cannabis concentrates are available in a number of formats and textures, many of which exhibit high concentrations of THC as their main selling point.

Infused cannabis goods

Any recipe that calls for oil or butter can be readily infused with cannabis. An edible product is generally much more intoxicating since cannabinoids enter the bloodstream through the liver and stomach. This also delays the onset of the effects (depending on the person, about 30 to 90 minutes) and extends their duration (depending on the dose and the person, from four to eight hours).

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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