What is THC?

THC stands for TetraHydroCannabinol it is the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for a euphoric high. THC has likely been synonymous with cannabis in your mind for as long as you’ve known about the plant.

The first step to understanding THC is to understand cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant that interact with receptors in the brain and body to create various effects. There exist dozens, and potentially more than 113, some say over 200 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, but THC is most widely known among these due to its abundance and psychoactive attributes.

The isolation of THC came from an Israeli chemist by the name of Raphael Mechoulam. Who was 32 yrs old when in 1964, Mechoulam isolated and synthesized THC from Lebanese hashish, marking the beginning of cannabis research that would lead to the discovery of many other cannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, and “endocannabinoids” – the THC-like compounds our body naturally produces to maintain stability and health.

What is THC?

The Cannabis Plant contains both THC and CBD in abundance but many strains can have more or less of either cannabinoid.

The cannabis plant is known to contain over 90 unique chemicals, known as cannabinoids. Delta-9-tetrahydocannabinol (Δ9-THC or THC) is the primary compound and the most well-known; it was discovered and isolated first and is widely recognized as responsible for the psychoactive effects associated with the plant. Other cannabinoids have similar chemical structures but produce different pharmacological effects based on their interaction with the natural endocannabinoid receptor system in the body.

Cannabidiol (or CBD) is now recognized as the second compound of significance.

Among its characteristics of note is that it is most prevalent in hemp (cannabis bred for fiber or seed products for industrial use), has no psychoactive affects and no impact on motor function, memory or body temperature.

Of equal interest to researchers, CBD reduces some of the effects of THC, enhancing the “safety profile” of cannabis. In this capacity, CBD is referred to as “an entourage molecule.”

According to Pisanti, Malfitano et al: “CBD is undoubtedly the more interesting cannabinoid with a lot of reported pharmacological effects in several models of pathologies, ranging from inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases, to epilepsy, autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, schizophrenia and cancer.”

The human body (along with other mammals) has a cannabinoid receptor system (often referred to as “endogenous,” meaning within the body.) The simple way of understanding receptors it to think of them as switches, in which they are activated by a specific chemical (in this case, a cannabinoid such as THC). The activation of the receptor produces specific effects based on their location in the body, and cannabinoid receptors located in areas of the brain, for example, associated with the well-known effects of cannabis.

Why does cannabis produce cannabinoids? Cannabinoids are known as secondary metabolites, which means they are chemicals the plant produces that have no primary role on the plant’s development. However, the leading hypothesis is that secondary metabolites act as an immune system for the plant, fending off predators, parasites, and pests.

Because humans (and many other animals) have receptor systems that THC binds to, we can also reap the benefits of cannabinoids for both health and enjoyment. This system, called the endocannabinoid system (or ECS), is a group of specialized signaling chemicals (think “keys”), their receptors (think “locks”), and the metabolic enzymes that produce and break them down. These endocannabinoid chemical signals act on some of the same brain and immune cell receptors (CB1 and CB2) that plant cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) act on.