You’ve probably heard about this acronym and are wanting to know more about it.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of dagga’s psychological effects.
Is THC only used for recreational purposes? Is this why people smoke dagga for these effects?
Or does THC also offer medicinal benefits for people who are using cannabis and/or cannabis oil in South Africa?
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 100, 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. 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.
When you consume cannabis, you introduce its cannabinoids into your body. Once inside, they’re metabolized and enter the bloodstream. From there, they bind to receptors CB1 and CB2, which are concentrated in the brain and central nervous system.
Astonishingly, there are 10 times more CB1 receptors in the brain than μ-opioid receptors, which are responsible for the effects of morphine. CB2 receptors hang out exclusively on the cells of the immune system. For that reason, cannabis has significant medicinal applications, in addition to its more popular recreational uses.
So what does THC do to the brain? THC isn’t the only cannabinoid that can bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors. But when it does, the ECS stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain, creating a sense of euphoria and relaxation. In short, a high.
As cannabis continues to gain acceptance in mainstream culture, more and more studies are coming out that bring THC’s medical value to light. Most remarkable are the findings on THC as a potential treatment for cancer. Researchers at the Complutense University of Madrid have found that THC actually causes tumor cells to auto-digest themselves in animal models, meaning that THC may play a vital role in drastically reducing the tumor size and prevalence.
Large-scale pharmaceutical companies have put out drugs like Marinol, a prescription medication that increases appetite and reduces nausea in cancer patients which has been available in South Africa via the Section 21 application form to use an unregistered medicine. Multiple Sclerosis drug Sativex is made of THC extracted from cannabis plants.
THC’s ability to fight tumors in animal models is incredible. Yet, the cannabinoid offers more medicinal benefit. THC is a potent anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is an underlying factor that contributes to a whole host of modern diseases. Autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and depression are three major health problems triggered by inflammation. THC’s potent inflammation-fighting nature is one major reason that it helps with such a wide variety of conditions.
Soon after psychoactive THC was first isolated, researchers stumbled upon the chemical’s antibacterial effects. A paper published in 1976 found that a dose as small as 1-5 micrograms per milliliter of THC successfully killed streptococci and staphylococci two bacteria that cause strep through and the much-feared staph infection.
Though, the effective concentration jumped to 50 micrograms when tested in blood. Interestingly, the study found that gram-negative bacteria like E. coli and helicobacter pylori, which causes stomach ulcer, were resistant to isolated THC.
In a more recent study published in 2012, a full extract taken from cannabis seed and plants showed a moderate effectiveness against E. coli and a high effectiveness against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a gram-negative bacteria that can cause respiratory, skin, and urinary tract infections.
The full extract also was highly effective against Bacillus subtilis, a pathogen that causes food poisoning.
Here is a brief list of conditions helped by THC. For more information on any of these specific ailments, please read the associated articles.
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Cancer: Including brain, breast, pediatric cancers, skin cancers, and more.
- Crohn’s, IBS, IBD
- Chronic and neuropathic pain
- Multiple sclerosis and other muscular disorders
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Sleep apnea
- Tourette syndrome
General benefits of THC include:
- Stress relief
- Improved mood
- General pain relief
- Social bonding
Short-term effects of THC
As mentioned earlier, consuming THC will make you feel a bit different from your normal self. There a handful of side effects that might accompany THC. It’s important to note that not everyone has these side effects and you may not experience all of them at once. Many of the side effects listed are strain-dependent.
For many, the pleasant effects of cannabis outweigh any negatives.
You may experience the following for up to 3 hours after inhaling. These do not continue once the THC has worn off.
- A sense of uplift and energy
- Pain relief
- Heavy-bodied sensation
- Red, dry eyes
- Dry mouth
- Increased heart rate
- Skewed sense of time – typically time seems to slow down.
- Poor spatial memory
- Decreased body temperature
- Anxiety, paranoia
If ingesting cannabis via an edible, it may take anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours to fully feel the effects of THC. When the psychoactive effects begin to kick in, they will be much more potent than they are when consuming cannabis in a different form.
The immediate effects of THC will vary slightly depending on the individual cannabis strain due to factors like the total percentage of THC, and the percentage of other dominant cannabinoids present in that particular strain.
Long-term effects of THC
Scientists are still debating the long-term effects of THC. It’s been a gruelling argument thus far, as very little research has reached firm, reliable conclusions. Below is a brief summary of the top contenders. Though, it’s important to mention that this list is just a simple summary of a complex topic. More long-term effects may be confirmed in the future. Further, some of those listed here may be eventually ruled out as well. Here it goes:
- Alterations in memory: One study has shown that heavy cannabis users have decreased verbal memory over time.
- Bronchitis-like symptoms: This is not from THC, but from smoking. If you smoke a lot for a long period of time, you may experience some lung irritation. These symptoms go away if you stop smoking or switch to a different consumption method. Vaporizers and edibles are great options for lung health.
- Tolerance: When you consume a lot of THC regularly for long periods of time, your body develops a tolerance to the compound. This makes the herb less effective, and you’ll have to consume more and more of it to see results. When this happens, take a tolerance break.
- Apathy: This is related to tolerance. If you use cannabis excessively over long periods of time, your body stops being completely responsive to the effects of dagga. This can cause you to feel a little blank or emotionally numb. Taking tolerance break fixes and prevents this problem.
- Trouble for those with psychotic disorders: If you are predisposed to a psychotic disorder, you might want to reconsider THC. Research has found that folks with a genetic vulnerability for schizophrenia and psychosis can develop symptom onset earlier when they regularly consume THC.
There are a few commonly held beliefs about cannabis that have been mitigated in recent research. If you’re concerned about any of these supposed effects, be sure to check out the associated articles. The topics listed below are also highly controversial. Research has been going back and forth on these subjects for decades. Contrary to popular belief, cannabis:
- Has not been linked to increases in lung cancer
- Is not attributed to death
- Has not been shown to cause brain damage in adults
Concentrations of THC in cannabis
When THC is exposed to air, it degrades into cannabinol, a cannabinoid that has its own psychological effects. THC concentration also depends on the cultivation of the marijuana plant, known scientifically as Cannabis sativa L.
A type of cannabis that has a minimal amount of THC, as low as 0.5 percent, is hemp, according to the North American Industrial Hemp Council. Hemp is used for industrial and medical purposes.
Some strains of cannabis can have as little as 0.3 percent THC by weight. In other strains, THC makes up 20-35% percent of the weight in a sample.
We trust this sheds some light on understanding a bit more about THC in the plant