You may know of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) as the element in weed that, well, gets you high. But the compound THC, one of over 400 found in marijuana, is actually more complex than that. So, what is THC and how does it work? Experts weighed in to give TheStreet the latest scoop on THC’s applications.
What is THC?
THC, also called tetrahydrocannabinol, is the compound in cannabis that is psychoactive and gives you the feeling of being high. However, THC’s chemical make-up, C₂₁H₃₀O₂, is very similar to its counterpart, CBD, which actually combats the effects of THC.
Still, THC mimics the natural chemical anandamide (which is produced in the brain) in structure, altering the function in communication. So, instead of normal brain communication via neurons, the THC compound attaches to the neurons and changes the process.
Still, the stigma that THC gets (especially in relation to marijuana use) may not entirely be the whole story. THC actually brags several health benefits that have been shown to help treat depression, PTSD, epilepsy, and even eating disorders.
THC has the chemical formula C₂₁H₃₀O₂, with a molecular mass of 314.464 g/mol. But, it is very similar in structure and molecular mass to its counterpart CBD, which dilutes the effects of THC.
THC brags a variety of uses, both medicinal and recreational.
Among dozens, THC can be used in syrups, edibles, oils used via tinctures, drops, in medicines, and topicals including lotions and balms used for anti-inflammation.
THC and cannabis can also be used on animals like dogs for pain relief and calming anxiety.
Additionally, Marinol, a medication made with synthetic THC, is the only currently FDA approved THC medication.
Currently, THC (more broadly blanketed under cannabis) is legal medically in 29 states, while recreational marijuana is legal in 9 states and Washington D.C.
However, recent reports indicate legalization may begin becoming more widespread.
In fact, this month the New York State Health Department released a report claiming the “positive effects of a regulated marijuana market … outweigh the potential negative impacts,” according to New York Daily News.
Still, THC (within marijuana) is increasingly becoming a hot topic in the discussion for legalization. And, its advocates are coming from high up.
“The process to legalize and properly regulate marijuana should be seriously reviewed and advanced,” said New York Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester) in a statement in 2018. “More and more New Yorkers understand the harm that has been done by criminalizing marijuana, arresting and giving records to millions of our youth, and allowing shadow markets to flourish. We need to start to undo the damage from this misguided policy, and that means advancing common sense legalization efforts.”
However, given the controversial nature of the compound, it is unclear when these waves of “common sense” legalization will occur.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC affects things like thinking, memory, pleasure, movements, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception. For these reasons, doing things like operating heavy machinery or driving while under the influence of the drug may be dangerous.
CBD and THC have the same chemical formula — 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The difference lies in the way the atoms are arranged. That gives CBD and THC different chemical properties, and they affect your body differently.
Both CBD and THC work with receptors that release neurotransmitters in your brain. They can affect things like pain, mood, sleep, and memory.
How CBD and THC Affect the Body
THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. It’s what makes people feel “high.”
We have two types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. THC binds with receptors — mostly in the brain — that control pain, mood, and other feelings. That’s why THC can make you feel euphoric and give you that so-called high.
CBD doesn’t cause that high. Instead, it’s thought to work with other elements in the body linked to feelings of well-being.
People take CBD products to help with everything from arthritis and Crohn’s disease to diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Some say it helps with anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. So far, there’s little evidence that CBD helps with any of these.
The FDA has approved one CBD-based drug. Epidiolex is a treatment for several severe forms of rare childhood epilepsy.
CBD is a hot topic for researchers. The National Institutes of Health clinical trials database shows more than 160 trials involving CBD that are either active or recruiting.
As part of medical marijuana, THC helps ease things like:
- Multiple sclerosis pain
- Nerve pain
- Parkinson’s disease tremors
THC can cause:
- Problems with concentration
Side effects from CBD can include:
- Upset stomach
- Low blood pressure
CBD can also change the way some medicines work. Talk with your doctor about it.
CBD vs. THC: Drug testing
Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are stored in the body’s fat. They can show up on drug tests for several days or weeks after you use them.
Not every drug test will be able to detect CBD, but CBD-sensitive tests are available. Most standard drug tests will look for chemicals related to THC, so THC or marijuana use might show up on a screening.
Likewise, hemp can produce some THC in addition to CBD, so a test could be positive for THC even if you haven’t used it.
It’s important to note that products that claim to be THC-free may not be free of THC, so if you’re drug tested, you shouldn’t use any CBD or THC products.
Why do people talk about THC content in CBD oil if THC and CBD are two different compounds?
CBD and THC are two of the most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Both cannabis and hemp produce CBD and THC.
However, cannabis has a higher concentration of THC. Hemp has a higher concentration of CBD.
The average cannabis strain today contains about 12 percentTrusted Source THC. CBD oil may contain small amounts of THC because it’s present at low levels in the hemp plant. CBD can have no more than 0.3 percent THC to be legal at the federal level.
CBD and THC both have medical benefits. They’re also both considered safe, but consider the possibility of side effects and interactions with other drugs you’re taking. Talk with your doctor or a qualified cannabis or CBD clinician before use and if you have any questions.