The Chemistry of Cannabis: What Is THC?

A small cannabis bud on a grinder.

THC is the psychoactive component in marijuana.

Have you ever wondered which component of the cannabis plant is responsible for its physical and psychoactive effects? Well, cannabis actually contains over 60 different psychoactive chemicals, each with varying effects. But there is one chemical which is responsible for the majority of them, and which most people have probably heard of before – THC.

THC, which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the most abundant cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It is quite possibly one of the oldest psychoactive chemicals known to humankind, and the oldest psychoactive chemical to be regularly used by humankind as well. So how does it work and what are its common effects? Let’s take a look.

How THC Works

THC works on humans because our brains are wired in such a way that cannabinoids are actively taken up by our natural cannabinoid receptors. The chemical fits like a lock into a key because our brain has its own endogenous cannabinoids such as anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. It was the discovery of THC which led to the discovery of these two endocannabinoids.

Researchers have found that cannabinoid receptors are abundant throughout our nervous system, though are more abundant in the areas of our brain which are related to memory, thinking, coordination, perception of time, and pleasure.

The Physical and Psychological Effects of THC 

THC has a variety of effects on the body and mind, and more are being discovered as more research is done on the subject. Unfortunately, strict laws and the current legal status of cannabis in many parts of the world have caused a significant hindrance for this type of research.

Still, there is a lot about this chemical which we do know, and we have seen that it can have startling physical and psychological effects. Here are just some of the many potential effects of THC:

The word Healthcare with the letters THC highlighted.1) Pain relief

THC has long been known to offer effective pain relief by acting on certain transmitters throughout the nervous system. It can be used for a variety of conditions such as migraines, arthritis, menstrual cramps, and back pain.

2) Appetite stimulation/nausea suppression

Another frequently-observed effect of THC is that it is great at stimulating appetite. This is one of the main reasons why it often used by patients undergoing chemotherapy. Coupled with the fact that it also decreases nausea, it allows many patients to eat when they otherwise would not have been able to.

3) Reducing eye pressure

Cannabis is also often used by those suffering with glaucoma. THC can help to alleviate the problematic symptoms of glaucoma because it has been shown to reduce pressure within the eye.

4) Reduction of neuropathic pain and spasticity

While THC is great for the more regular sort of pain we encounter every day, it can also be used specifically to target neuropathic pain. On top of this, it is effective in reducing muscle spasticity. For these reasons, cannabis is often used by those suffering from multiple sclerosis.

5) Euphoria/relaxation

One of the main reasons that cannabis is used recreationally or medicinally (or a mixture of both), is that it promotes a sense of relaxation and even euphoria. This is because THC stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter known as dopamine in your brain.

Dopamine is very important for mood-regulation and healthy psychological functioning. Not having enough of it can be a contributing factor to everything from depression to schizophrenia.

6) Hallucinations

Though most cannabis users do not report anything near the hallucinations caused by chemicals such as LSD or psilocybin, THC can nevertheless be mildly hallucinogenic in larger doses. Everybody reacts differently, and the important thing is to know your own limits.

7) Aggression reduction

Finally, there is promising research that THC can help to reduce aggression. While more research needs to be done in order to deduce the possible pharmacology of this effect, it should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever experienced it for themselves.

Since THC promotes relaxation and euphoria, it is only reasonable to think that aggressive feelings and behaviors would be reduced at the same time.