Tetrahydrocannabinol THC … What Is It Exactly? How Does It Work? See Here

Tetrahydrocannabinol THC

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

ˈte-trə-ˌhī-drə-kə-ˈna-bə-ˌnȯl | Noun

The main intoxicating phytocannabinoid in the cannabis plant. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a psychotropic compound unique to cannabis that causes a euphoric “high,” increased sensory awareness, and various therapeutic benefits. THC is the most well-known cannabinoid of the marijuana plant that’s found in lower concentration in the hemp plant (less than 0.3%). 

“I like it when my cannabis contains higher levels of CBD because it balances out the THC.”

“I recently tried THC concentrates, they are the most flavorful products around.”

More About THC

It’s known as the main intoxicating cannabinoid responsible for the cannabis “high.” This is accurate but doesn’t fully describe this molecule. When dosed correctly and in synergy with other phytocannabinoids, THC is so much more than a compound that gives the user a euphoric feeling. 

Recently, cannabidiol took the spotlight due to its therapeutic potential. But, THC is still the most popular cannabinoid. While it is the primary psychotropic compound in cannabis, it’s not solely responsible for the ”high” effect. 

How Does It Work? 

Similar to other cannabinoids, THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes that help maintain internal homeostasis (balance). Endocannabinoids are one of the three main parts of the ECS and are cannabinoid-like “messenger” molecules produced by the body. The role of the enzymes as part of the ECS is to break down endocannabinoids after they’ve accomplished their mission. 

Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the brain and body and activated when molecules like THC bind to them. The two primary cannabinoid receptors are CB1 and CB2 receptors. The important receptor in the case is CB1, which is found primarily in the central nervous system. This cannabinoid binds directly to the CB1 receptors, as a result producing intoxication and other effects. 


Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most well-known and researched cannabis compound that interacts with the endocannabinoid system through several different pathways. This cannabinoid is not intoxicating like THC and produces anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. These two cannabinoids induce opposite responses, but they support one another when used together. 

Research shows that CBD tends to improve the therapeutic effects and relaxing properties of THC by minimizing side effects like anxiety and rapid heartbeat. A 2010 study revealed that CBD minimized the negatives effects it has on memory. Another 2012 study found that cannabis users who consumed more CBD had better recall memory than those whose cannabis had no CBD. Because cannabidiol counteracts the side effects of THC, it enables the user to tolerate higher doses of this molecule, which results in better health outcomes. 

The Entourage Effect

The entourage effect refers to how terpenes enhance the potential benefits of cannabinoids and how cannabinoids magnify the effects of one another. This means that whole-plant cannabis or cannabis extract offers a greater medicinal value than THC or CBD isolates because it contains the entire cannabis plant profile. Every compound contributes to the overall therapeutic effect of the plant in a unique way. 

Each person reacts differently to cannabis. Some people benefit from CBD edibles and high-CBD/low-THC cannabis strains. For recreational users who are sensitive to THC’s side effects like paranoia and extreme couch lock, high-CBD strains are the go-to. These strains offer a more tempered yet potent experience. THC got a serious competitor in CBD, but the whole plant extract containing both cannabinoids and the added benefits of terpenes (the entourage effect) will always win.  

Effects of THC

To users of recreational cannabis, it’s is the main player and the most sought-after cannabinoid. Cannabis doesn’t only get the user “high” but also provides a full spectrum of effects. Each person reacts differently to this plant and experiences one or more of these effects:

Intoxication and Euphoria

The most popular recreational effect of THC is intoxication. Cannabis intoxication is different from intoxication by other substances. It’s euphoric and absorbing, it occupies the body and mind. Unlike alcohol intoxication, it doesn’t make the person aggressive. On the contrary, it may decrease aggression, according to a 2016 study published in Psychopharmacology

Sedation and Relaxation

THC can be a potent sedative. Both in small and moderate doses or as part of whole-plant products, this cannabinoid is relaxing and sleep-inducing. Still, its effects depend on the person. In some people, moderate to high doses tend to have a stimulating effect. 

Altered State of Consciousness

This molecule is associated with altered consciousness or perception of the world. This effect is seen as beneficial by both recreational and medical cannabis patients. They typically like the way this plant alters perception. 

Athletic Enhancement

The anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties of this compound may provide some benefits for athletes. This compound is not allowed for athletes at every step of the way, but it may provide a distinct mental resource that enables them to get through a tough workout. Exercising or running causes a euphoria feel known as the “runner’s high,” which involves activity at the CB1 receptor. Incorporating THC into sports may help athletes boost this effect.

Sexual Enhancement 

The market is experiencing an explosion of cannabis-related sexual wellness products. These products claim to harness the ability of phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD to increase physical sensitivity and bring a relaxed mental state. Aside from anecdotal evidence, we don’t know the effectiveness of these products. But, studies that use brain imaging have shown that cannabis enhances libido and has potential for the treatment of low sex drive. 

Uses and Benefits of THC

This cannabinoid is much more than the euphoric feeling it causes during recreational use. Framing this phytocannabinoid as a recreational one limits its medicinal effects and the value it provides on its own or as part of a whole cannabis product. Here are some of its uses and benefits: 

Relieves Pain 

Studies in humans demonstrate that cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain relief in adults. They show that cannabis, especially THC, acts as an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective antioxidant. These properties help the body deal with pain from tissue damage, inflammation, and damage to the nervous system. THC’s pain-relieving potential relates to its ability to activate the CB1 receptor in the region of the brain that controls pain.

Stimulates Appetite

Most of the information we know about THC and appetite comes from the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Further research is needed to fully understand the way this phytocannabinoid promotes appetite. Studies show that it may stimulate appetite by interacting with appetite hormones involved in regulating food intake, like ghrelin and leptin.

Antiemetic Properties

Cannabinoids are known for their anti-nausea and vomiting properties. One 2011 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology revealed that THC could be an effective treatment for reducing nausea and vomiting. The study was performed on cancer patients going through chemotherapy. 

May Help Muscle Spasms

Extensive research shows the effectiveness of the cannabis plant in treating muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). A study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2007, THC can potentially decrease the strength and frequency of MS-related muscle spasms. Another study published in the Journal of Neurology found that this compound may be effective in treating MS-associated neuropathic pain. 

May Help Substance Abuse 

This may sound like a paradox because THC is a pleasurable substance, but studies show that it may reduce other substances’ abuse potential. Animal studies reveal that this compound may diminish the consumption of heroin. In humans, whole-plant cannabis and THC appear to increase the likelihood that a person will remain in treatment for opioid use. 

Aside from these pharmacological benefits, it may present a non-lethal intoxicating alternative to more dangerous drugs. Still, the best treatment for addiction is prevention, but the evidence is promising that cannabis may end the use of other drugs entirely. An interesting fact is that when a state passes a medical cannabis law, sales of alcohol drop by average of 15%.  

Metabolic Benefits

According to animal studies, THC plays a crucial role in the prevention of diet-induced obesity. In general, cannabis tends to give users a lower body mass index (BMI), lower rates of diabetes, and lower rates of fatty liver disease than non-cannabis users. Other cannabis compounds may play a role in these benefits. 

Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Researchers are considering the theory of endocannabinoid deficiency as a possible explanation for imbalance in homeostatic processes like pain regulation and digestion. Endocannabinoid deficiency is the state when the body doesn’t produce enough of its own cannabinoids. This results in a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system that may contribute to conditions such as migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Researchers don’t know if endocannabinoid deficiency is a genetic condition or appears as a result of illness or mental distress. What they do know is that whole-plant cannabis extract and THC alleviate the symptoms of these diseases. Therefore, cannabinoids may make up for endocannabinoid deficiency in the organism. 

Risks and Side Effects

As a potent cannabinoid, it has the potential to produce side effects. Each individual is likely to respond differently to this cannabinoid, which depends on their endocannabinoid system. Researchers have discovered nine variations of the CB1 receptor gene, hence the varied responses to THC. Here are some adverse side effects associated with it: 


THC’s most desirable quality may also turn into the most unpleasant (temporary) physical and mental impairment. The intoxication caused by this phytocannabinoid is not dangerous but can impair the ability of the user to perform tasks safely. So, don’t drive under the influence of this compound. 

Increased Heart Rate 

Consuming a cannabis product increases the user’s heart rate and blood pressure. If you are a new or infrequent cannabis user and want to avoid this effect, go for low-THC cannabis cultivars or CBD products. Cannabidiol (CBD) is known to balance out THC products and lower the compound’s intoxicating effects. 


The brain’s response to increased heart rate translates into the fight or flight mechanism, which produces feelings of paranoia and anxiety. Paranoia is a common side effect in users who take high doses of THC. If you experience this side effect, avoid high-THC cultivars and products. As you start to develop tolerance to the substance, paranoia will likely diminish over time. To prevent it, start low and increase your dose gradually. This allows you to overcome this side effect and reap its medical benefits. 

Red Eyes

If you don’t experience any of the above side effects before going in public, this one gives it away that you’ve been smoking weed red, bloodshot eyes. It takes about 10 minutes after consuming this plant to get your heart rate and blood pressure back to normal. 

When your blood pressure lowers, it leads to the dilation of blood vessels and capillaries. This process doesn’t skip the eye area, so as the ocular capillaries start to dilate, the eyes turn red. The redness of your eyes depends on how much your blood pressure decreases, which starts with the amount of THC you consume. Other than being a telltale sign of smoking cannabis, this side effect is harmless and goes away after a few hours. 


A side effect that’s beneficial for people who suffer from appetite loss due to diseases like cancer, cachexia (wasting syndrome), and others. Research shows that substances that activate the CB1 receptor can amplify appetite and hunger signals in the brain. They can either increase sensory sensitivity or increase your motivation to eat.  

Consumed Too Much THC? What Now

You can’t have a lethal overdose from cannabis. But, you can consume this cannabinoid in such a large dose that it produces unpleasant side effects. THC overdose may cause:

  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dysphoria
  • Emotional distress
  • Physical discomfort

You are more likely to overdose on THC if you ingest a cannabis edible. The reason behind it is the way the enzymes break down this component in the liver. The liver turns this compound into 11-hydroxy THC, which is a far more potent activator of the CB1 receptor. 

If you experience intense symptoms when on THC, try to stay calm. The sensation of panic is only temporary and lasts from a few minutes to several hours, depending on how you take it and how much of it you consume. To distract yourself from the feeling of panic, listen to soothing music, or watch TV. You might experience the dry mouth side effect, so make sure to take small sips of water to rehydrate. 

If you’re experiencing a severe THC overdose, doctors recommend going to the emergency room. You will be given a sedative, and they’ll monitor you until the symptoms subside. But, moderate symptoms of overdose can be “survived” at home with support from friends and family. 

Who Should Avoid THC?

As a rule of thumb, this cannabinoid should be avoided (especially in high doses) by people at risk for psychosis and individuals with cardiac conditions. Also, minors or people younger than 18 should consult a qualified physician before consuming THC for medical purposes.

Pharmacological History of THC

Raphael Mechoulam and Yechiel Gaoni first discovered delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 1964 in Israel. They identified its chemical structure and psychotropic properties.  

A year later, in 1965, Professor Friedhelm Korte of the University of Bonn in Germany isolated THC’s precursor tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). THCA turns into THC when exposed to heat. During this year, Mechoulam and Gaoni made the first total synthesis of THC from hashish. 

Cannabis became a Schedule I drug in 1970 in the U.S. with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act. Cannabis is still a Schedule I substance under federal law with no accepted medical potential and a high potential for abuse. 

Despite it being a prohibited substance for so long, underground breeders kept the plant alive. The ’80s and ’90s were an era of crossbreeding for potent yields that contain higher levels of THC. A 2014 report states that in 1995, the average THC to CBD ratio in cannabis was 14:1. The ratio jumped to 80:1 by 2014. 

Types of THC Products

Cannabis Flower

The most popular and versatile form of cannabis, the flower is the smokable, trichome-rich part of the female cannabis plant. Cannabis flower can be smoked in a bong or pipe and rolled into a joint or blunt. Cultivated varieties of cannabis with a high percentage of THC are valued on the market and are classified into three groups:

  • Type III – suitable for newcomers and medical purposes because of their low THC levels. 
  • Type II – suitable for daytime use and so-called “functional high,” allows the user to reap the plant’s medical benefits while getting minimal or manageable intoxication.
  • Type I – potent cultivars with a minimum of 20% THC. These cultivars make up over 80% of the market and are preferred by seasoned users. 


Isolates are extractions of a single cannabinoid, typically tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which turns into active THC when heated. 


Concentrates are sme of the most potent cannabis products on the market. To make concentrates, processors separate the two most desirable components of cannabis cannabinoids and terpenes. A concentrate is available in a variety of textures and exhibits high levels of THC. 

Infused Goods

Ingested cannabis is processed differently in the body than inhaled cannabis. This means that an edible product is much more intoxicating due to the way it’s metabolized through the stomach and liver. Edibles are not as fast-acting as inhaled products. It takes about 30 to 90 minutes to feel the first effects, but the duration of these effects is extended from four to eight hours. This depends on the dose. and the person ingesting the product.    

Is THC Legal?

In the United States, cannabis is a Schedule I drug under federal law. Most states have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, despite THC not getting clearance as a compound for medical or recreational use. Therefore, most medical marijuana states restrict the amount of THC that the CBD products sold at dispensaries can contain. Slowly but surely, we are noticing a surge of states in the U.S. that are taking steps to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. 

Final Thoughts 

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main cannabinoid in the cannabis plant that causes a euphoric high. Researchers are discovering more and more about the cannabis plant, which also reveals the medical potential of this compound.