What is THC? Guide on tetrahydrocannabinol


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THC, otherwise scientifically known as tetrahydrocannabinol, is what makes marijuana so loved among human beings. It is the molecule that is responsible for making you high when you smoke, eat or vape cannabis. So much loving research has been conducted on this unique molecule, and that research has effectively gone on to teach us a lot about the human body itself.

In fact, the THC molecule very closely resembles other molecules that exist naturally in the human body and brain. This mysterious connection could be why human beings find themselves so drawn to using marijuana. So what exactly does THC do and how does it work? Well, in fact, the answer to that is extremely complicated, but the little we can explain shows so much promise for the potential of THC in modern medicine.

A little about the discovery of THC

Mechoulam THC

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The discovery of THC is just as interesting as the effects it gives! The man who was first dedicated to isolating the different components of cannabis was Rafael Mechoulam, an Israeli scientist with a particularly keen taste for hash. Interestingly, the Israeli police were his suppliers to start the experiment, and the things he discovered changed the way we understand the human body as well as modern medicine.

In 1964, Rafael Mechoulam isolated the THC molecule from the cannabis plant, just shortly after isolating CBD. In fact, there is some controversy as to whether it was this guy or some other scientists from the USA in the 40’s. But it doesn’t really matter because how Mechoulam used that information for further research is what opened the door for a scientific understanding of medical marijuana.

Mechoulam, along with some other scientists began to realize that there were a lot of similarities between the THC molecule and others naturally occurring in the body. This observation led to the discovery of the first naturally occurring cannabinoid. This endocannabinoid is eerily reminiscent to THC and has been called anandamide; getting its name from the Sanskrit word ananda, meaning bliss.

Yes, it gets more exciting. The discovery of anandamide led to the discovery that the human body itself is the host of a cannabinoid system. Even without the use of marijuana, there are naturally occurring cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in the brain and all over the human body. The endocannabinoid system is essentially the body’s natural mechanism for balance and homeostasis. It is responsible for regulating the functions of the body and brain and basically keeping everything in order.

So, the discovery of THC led to one of the most profound discoveries about the human body and its functions for healing and recovery. Research into cannabis has taken scientists to some very interesting places in terms of understanding the intelligence of the human body. With all of this in mind, the interaction that takes place between THC and the natural endocannabinoid system is complex and involved. We don’t even fully understand it yet, but we can see that something very wonderful is taking place when we use marijuana.

What is THC and what does it do?

THC strains

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As we have already talked about, THC is a cannabinoid – that very closely resembles one of our own endocannabinoids. In terms of the role THC plays for the plant itself, it falls into the category of being a secondary metabolite. This means that THC doesn’t really serve any purpose for the marijuana plant itself! It does not play a role in the growth and development but can take the place of an immune system sometimes. The smell, taste, and effects of THC can ward off visitors that the marijuana plant doesn’t like.

Interestingly, it could be these exact qualities that make it so wonderful for the human being medicinal. THC provides antibacterial and antiparasitic protection for the marijuana plant and can have the same effects in the human, too.

In most cases, female marijuana plants will produce the most THC, while male plants will have a much lower THC level. This might be because most people and animals aren’t really interested in the male plant, meaning they don’t produce so much of this secondary metabolite.

THC and the brain

THC brain

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We don’t yet fully understand exactly how THC interacts with the human brain. Our research is still elementary and doesn’t even begin to explain the complexity of this relationship. Although THC was isolated in the 60s, it wasn’t until the late 80’s that Allyn Howlett discovered the sites in the brain that THC actually binds to. Apparently, it seems to all boil down to shape.

There are receptors in the brain that seem to fit perfectly into the shape of the THC molecule. Howlett coined these locations as cannabinoids receptors, appropriately enough. The locations themselves are interesting, too, because they govern largely abstract parts of our human experience. Cannabinoid receptors were located by Howlett in the hippocampus (responsible for memory), the frontal cortex (which is where most of our thinking comes from), and the cerebellum (which looks after movement and coordination).

What happens between the THC molecule and the cannabinoid receptors in the brain is something like a divine union. They meet and begin a chain reaction of events all over the body and brain that essentially create the stoned experience and offer the healing effects. There even locations in the immune system that are affected by the triggering of these cannabinoid receptors. That’s to say – THC doesn’t always do badass medical work – but it activates all the parts of the body that have to do all of the work.

This chain reaction has effects in the body, and to be fair, the life of the person. How far that chain of events can go is really up to the person and their relationship with ganja. Some people are using it to treat cancer while others are using it to help their children stop having seizures!

THC and the human body

Ok, so when it comes to all the magical effects THC has in the body, we know even less. It is actually mind boggling how successful the evidence is without any real understanding on our part how it is all taking place. There have been loads of studies already that have proved over and over again that the symptoms of chronic pain (for example) are reduced after cannabis use. But so far, we can’t scientifically prove that it’s happening.

Analgesic effects aren’t the only ones we observe in the body after marijuana use. Studies have shown that THC has anti-inflammatory properties and can even reduce insomnia. At the very least, a marijuana user experiences the physical sensations that come along with marijuana use.

The short term effects of THC

THC classic hit

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What THC does in the short term is probably the number one reason why people love to use marijuana. The euphoria or high that is associated with cannabis is something inspiring for most people. Different strains have different effects on people in general, but there is a basic consensus among marijuana users: there is a feeling of euphoria, elevated mood, heightened sensitivity to touch and sound, increased mental activity, increased libido, laughter, and relaxation.

Of course, all of that comes with dry-mouth, red eyes and sometimes paranoia. There is also some evidence to suggest that short term memory is affected (only while you are high). But for most people, the experience of THC is a completely enjoyable one, and it makes sense when you consider how alike it is to our own anandamide. It is always going to be different from individual to individual, and different people’s bodies will react differently to THC.

Long term effects of THC

There is as much controversy surrounding the long term effects of THC as there are surrounding everything else to do with cannabis. It is so clear how little we know when we begin to dabble in the research that has taken place surrounding this plant. Human beings may have been able to figure out how to split an atom, but we don’t know why ingesting THC makes our appetites bigger.

Some people say that long term THC use can cause the body to become desensitized to it, which makes sense. But it is also said that this desensitization can cause apathy or laziness. Yes, there are many stoners who indulge in junk food and video games. But there are also many who have made very successful lives.

Having said that, if your preferred method of ingestion is smoking, then you can probably face some problems long term. However, it’s important to realize that the cause of these problems is not so much THC as it is the act of smoking. This is something for cannabis users to keep in mind.

One of the most controversial medicines

long term effects THC

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Ah, THC – it really is one of the most controversial substances on the planet. Which, when you think about it, is kind of hilarious because our own bodies produce a molecule which is almost exactly the same. Somehow, we have become accustomed to ingesting things so foreign to the human body that we have to take other medications to deal with their side effects. When it comes to something as natural as cannabis, the jury is completely out.

Just because we don’t know exactly how it works, does not mean that we can’t observe blatantly that it works for so many. This is one of the fallbacks of the scientific method and what makes marijuana and THC so controversial as a medicinal substance. It is hard to accept that the properties of cannabis are more like the human body than the properties of an orange. But nonetheless, the truth is the truth! Why panic? It’s organic!

What is THC? Guide on tetrahydrocannabinol
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