So, what is THC? Well, THC is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. It's responsible for nearly all the giggles, euphoria, and sensory changes that characterize a cannabis "high."
THC is also called delta-9-THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC has been used by humans for thousands of years. But how do we know that?
Well, humans have cultivated cannabis to have high levels of THC for thousands of years. As we discussed in Ancient Cultures That Got High, a 2,400-year-old shaman was found in Xinjiang, China with nearly two pounds of cannabis flower. Researchers determined that the cannabis came from numerous plants that had been bred to have high levels of THC and low levels of CBD - just like weed today!
In the modern era, Delta-9-THC can be consumed through fresh cannabis flower, eaten in THC gummies, vaped in Delta-9-THC carts a.k.a. vape oil cartridges, or even taken under the tongue as a THC tincture. Some of these products will have CBD, as well as terpenes and other cannabinoids. However, nearly all of the intoxicating effects of cannabis come THC.
THC starts as THCA, which starts as CBGA before being converted by THCA synthase into THCA. CBD and all other cannabinoids start as CBGA. But why does cannabis produce THC, and why does THC produce the effects it does on the human body?
Scientists hypothesize that cannabis produces cannabinoids like Delta-9-THC and THCa as a defense against predators. An animal that eats cannabis might become disoriented and be deterred from eating it in the future.
What does THC do to the brain? THC gets you high by interacting with your endocannabinoid system, particularly your CB1 receptors but weakly with your CB2 receptors as well.
The chemical structure of THC allows it to interact with these receptors. Endocannabinoids (eCBs) are lipid signaling particles that also interact with these receptors. These receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system, which helps to regulate things like mood, memory, and appetite. THC activates these receptors, leading to the mind-altering effects that are associated with cannabis use.
The therapeutic effects of THC are due to its ability to mimic these naturally occurring endocannabinoids. For example, THC can help to reduce pain by binding to pain receptors in the brain just like our body's own endocannabinoids do. Similarly, THC can help to regulate appetite by increasing hunger hormones.
THC and CBD are the two main cannabinoids found in cannabis. They are similar in some ways but different in others. Both CBD and THC bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and produce similar therapeutic effects. However, CBD does not produce the psychoactive "high" that is associated with THC. This is because CBD does not activate the cannabinoid receptors in the brain like THC does. Instead, it inhibits the enzymes that breaks down endocannabinoids (such as anandamide), leading to increased levels of endocannabinoids in the brain.
CBD also has some unique therapeutic effects that are not shared by THC. For example, CBD has been shown to be effective in treating seizures caused by epilepsy (a condition that does not respond well to other medications).
THCa stands for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. It is the non-intoxicating precursor to Delta-9-THC that is found in fresh, raw cannabis. Recent research indicates that THCa may be a promising medical compound. Many people believe that fresh cannabis juice, rich in THCa, is a superfood.
THCa converts to Delta-9-THC when it is exposed to heat and loses a carboxyl group. This process is called decarboxylation. When you make edibles, it is important to “decarb” your bud by converting the THCa to THC to increase the potency of your infusion. If you want to make tasteless weed infusions, check out our article How to Clean Your Cannabis with Chef Jeff.
While you can “decarb” your weed in a short period of time in a low temperature oven, over time THCa will convert to Delta-9-THC even at room temperature. Scientists have a difficult time studying THCa because it is so unstable. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the chemist who discovered THC in 1964, wrote to a fellow scientist in 2017, “How can anybody do an experiment if the compound likes to convert into something else just by sitting around, and the ‘something else’ has all kinds of activities?”
THC produces a variety of psychoactive effects from elevating mood, to enhancing sensory perception, stimulating creativity, enhancing intimate moments, and more. Most people feel that the way they consume THC affects how it makes them feel.
Some people love a controlled 5mg dose of Delta-9 gummies, while others prefer super concentrated doses of THC in weed moonrocks. Purposeful cannabis consumption allows you to use THC to enhance various areas of your life from improving your sleep to stimulating your appetite. The reason why cannabis is such a versatile wellness tool is that THC and other cannabinoids interact with your endocannabinoid system, which helps maintain homeostasis in mood, sleep, appetite, stress response, and more.
If you enter a dispensary, you might see products labeled as Delta-9 gummies, Delta-9 edibles, Delta-10 cartridges, THCv cartridges, Delta-8 concentrates, Delta-8 cigarettes, Delta-8 terpenes, and more. What are these products? And what are the different types of THC? To learn all about Delta-8-THC, check out our article What is Delta-8-THC? Delta-8-THC is an isomer of THC, meaning that it has the same chemical formula but a different structure.
Users report that Delta-8 produces similar psychoactive effects as Delta-9-THC, but that Delta-8 is less potent. Is Delta-8 legal? Delta-8 exists in a legal grey area, but it is widely sold in states without recreational cannabis programs. For example, you can buy 1000mg packages of Delta-8 gummies at gas stations around the country. Delta-10-THC is another isomer of THC that is purported to have more stimulating effects than Delta-9-THC. Like Delta-8-THC, Delta-10-THC exists in a legal grey area, allowing you to purchase items like Delta-10 cartridges at gas stations and head shops across the country.
In conclusion, THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. It produces mind-altering effects by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. THC also has some therapeutic benefits, such as pain relief and relaxation. However, it can also cause negative side-effects such as anxiety and paranoia. CBD is another cannabinoid with similar therapeutic benefits but without the psychoactive effects.
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