Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)


Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Guide

Medical marijuana is becoming more prominent as a treatment for disease and chronic debilitating conditions. In some places, there is a stigma some users must overcome. One compound in marijuana called THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, takes most of the blame for the negative view of marijuana in the US.

But the same THC that can make you high also has positive health benefits. People suffering from debilitating diseases who cannot find relief from their symptoms in any other way are learning they can turn to marijuana as an effective treatment. With continued research, medical science can better understand and make use of the psychoactive mechanisms in THC for advanced healing.

What Is THC – Tetrahydrocannabinol?

THC is perhaps the most well-known chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. All varieties of cannabis contain THC, although some contain very little and others are THC dominant. THC is referred to as a cannabinoid for its role in making up the cannabis plant.

Marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries in various cultures across the globe. In modern times, it rose to prominence in the American drug subculture in the 1960s. Research studies done at the time concluded that cannabis use did not lead to more serious drug use or violent behavior.

thc discovered in 1964

It wasn’t until 1964 that scientists discovered the chemical component in marijuana that made people high – THC.  A synthetic version of THC, dronabinol, was developed and marketed in the US and Canada. Marinol, trade name for dronabinol, is clear or amber-colored and becomes oily and sticky when heated.

THC is believed to protect the cannabis plant from UV rays and herbivores. It is considered an aromatic terpenoid, part of the phytocannabinoid family. THC is not soluble in water but mixes well with lipids and alcohol. When consumed, THC binds with cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system and brain to produce a euphoric effect.

Cannabinoid receptors exist in the brain to work with the endogenous cannabinoids the body naturally produces. Natural cannabinoids produce a mild euphoric feeling when they are produced in abundance, such as at the end of a good workout. THC inserts itself in this natural pathway to euphoria and increases those positive effects.

Cannabinoid receptors are associated with memory, pleasure, thinking, time perception, and coordination. All these functions can be affected by the detection of THC at the receptor sites. The exact effect depends on the amount of THC consumed, the level of natural cannabinoids in the system, and several other health variables.

When THC is consumed in its natural form, it is accompanied by other chemical elements of the cannabis plant. One other prominent component of marijuana, CBD, blocks the effects of THC. Each cannabis plant has a different ratio of THC to CBD, so the euphoric effects may be tempered by this balance.

Benefits of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Like all drugs, when THC enters your bloodstream and reaches your brain, it inserts itself in several communication pathways. This is how THC changes your mood to the euphoric state described by users.

thc effects
THC also changes your perceptions in other ways and has known physical effects, a few of which are:

  • Pain relief. The active ingredient in medical marijuana that blocks pain is THC. THC helps reduce even severe pain caused by damaged or inflamed nerves. People who suffer chronic pain conditions who do not respond to other pain medications often get relief from a high THC ratio strain of medical marijuana.
  • Appetite stimulant. Marijuana users are familiar with the hungry feeling you get when you are using the drug. That is the THC acting on your brain to stimulate appetite. For people suffering from wasting diseases or undergoing strong chemotherapy, appetite stimulation provides many medical benefits.
  • Sleep aid. THC in small doses can induce relaxation and promote sleep. Some experts suggest it’s safer than other drugs that treat the same condition, like Ambien or Lunestra.
  • Anti-inflammatory. When THC interacts with the central nervous system, it changes certain proteins and disrupts genetic expression. The THC acts as a strong anti-inflammatory. This property is especially helpful for fighting autoimmune diseases where inflammation, as an expression of diseased genetics, causes severe pain.
  • Anti-toxin. Amyloid beta proteins are the root cause of Alzheimer’s disease. These proteins build up in brain cells and block communication. THC removes these proteins from damaged brain cells, preventing the amyloid plaque from building up.
  • Anti-cancer. Studies have shown THC has an effect on certain cancer cells that is promising for a potential cure. THC enters the cancer cells and causes them to commit suicide. THC does not have the same effect on normal cells.
  • Anxiety reduction. THC boosts the brain’s own natural system for stress reduction by mimicking endocannabinoids, a natural brain chemical. Endocannabinoids regulate anxiety, and, by increase the level of cannabinoids in the brain, THC helps this system work better.

Studies continue to reveal new benefits of THC, but these are the predominant effects of current high-THC strains of marijuana.

Uses of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

The synthetic version of THC, dronabinol, is marketed by prescription only, for relief of nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment. It is also used as an appetite stimulant for patients battling AIDS and to relieve the pain for multiple sclerosis patients.

synthetic thc

The THC found in medical marijuana has several medical applications when used in its natural form, including:

  • PTSD: The THC in marijuana can cause memory impairment, which makes it a good therapeutic tool for combatting PTSD. Medical marijuana also reduces stress and reduces nightmares in those suffering from PTSD.
  • Asthma: THC helps relax muscles and reduce stress. Studies have shown that it can improve asthma symptoms. Even when smoked, marijuana can improve breathing in asthmatics.
  • HIV/AIDS: THC reduces nerve pain and anxiety for HIV/AIDS patients. It also stimulates appetite to help them maintain a healthy body weight and improve sleep.
  • Alzheimer’s: Alzheimer’s is the result of a plaque that builds up in the brain and disrupts the communication system. The memory loss and other cognitive deficiencies are related to parts of the brain no longer communicating with other parts. THC reduces the level of certain proteins in the brain, so the plaque cannot form.
  • Glaucoma: THC reduces pressure in the eye by dilating the blood vessels, relieving the pain of glaucoma.
  • Opioid addiction: THC reduces the anxiety of extreme opioid cravings in recovery to prevent relapse. It also enhances mood to overcome withdrawal symptoms, including depression. Marijuana can become an alternative option for opioid addicts while they are working on overcoming their addiction.

Marijuana has no real health or overdose risks, and once a patient is off opioids, it is much easier to step-down the marijuana until the addiction is eliminated.

  • Epilepsy: THC disrupts the electrical impulses in the brain that cause seizures. It keeps the neurons from being over excited and protects them from damage. Epilepsy patients find a significant reduction in the length and frequency of seizures with cannabis. It allows them to ween off prescription medicines and live a more normal life.
  • Attention deficit disorders: Attention deficit is generally attributed to an overload of sensory information. The brain is bombarded with thoughts constantly and is unable to prioritize them and focus on some and ignore the rest. THC suppresses sensory input to the brain, so there are fewer thoughts to sort through. It may also use the endocannabinoid system to reduce overstimulation in the brain.
  • Multiple sclerosis: This degenerative disease can be slowed by the THC in cannabis. By reducing inflammation and blocking nerve pain signals, THC also reduces pain for patients.

thc for ms

  • Arthritis: The pain of arthritis is caused by inflammation in the joints. THC reduces inflammation and relieves pain.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): COPD is a progressive disease for which there is no cure. THC can help increase appetite and maintain healthy body weight to improve quality of life.

This is just a sample of the conditions for which THC can be a useful treatment. As research continues into the effects and uses of THC, more applications will likely be discovered.

Side Effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Every substance you put in your body has an effect and a side-effect. The side-effects are the results you do not want and can vary from drug to drug. Some drugs have severe side-effects, but we use them because the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

thc side effects

With THC, the severity of side-effects is minimal. In fact, some of these side-effects may not be considered detrimental at all.

  • Increased appetite. Like other therapeutic drugs, steroids for instance, THC makes you hungry. This side-effect can lead to unwanted weight gain. In patients suffering wasting diseases or anorexia, this effect can be useful.
  • Dry mouth. THC binds to receptors in saliva glands and reduces their output. A dry mouth can be an uncomfortable side effect of THC use. Dry mouth, when not treated, can also lead to dental complications.
  • Paranoia. Although THC reduces stress, in larger doses, it can induce stress and panic. This is perhaps the most serious side effect of marijuana overdose. The paranoia can last several hours until the THC has cleared the brain. THC is not known for flashbacks. Once the paranoia subsides, it will not come back without another overdose of THC.
  • Temporary memory loss. This is another reason THC should not be taken when you need to be awake and alert. The temporary memory loss it can cause will make it difficult to function with any serious cognitive task. The memory loss from THC use is not permanent and will subside a few hours after use.
  • Red eyes. This side effect can make it difficult to hide your marijuana use, but it is not a significant health risk. The THC in cannabis dilates blood vessels in the eyes, giving a red appearance. Eye drops will reduce the redness until the effects of THC wear off naturally.

There is some question to whether THC is addictive. Any substance can become addictive due to the mental and emotional side of addiction. If marijuana becomes addictive, it is primarily due to the THC content. The psychoactive properties of THC produce a euphoric effect that your brain could crave.

An addiction to marijuana has fewer health risks than many other drugs. Cannabis offers health benefits, so using it responsibly will not deteriorate your physical condition. A proper balance of THC and CBD can reduce stress, improve mood and heal brain injury.

The impact THC has on the pleasure centers in your brain is not nearly as strong as opioids. The desire to use more marijuana is usually tempered with the relaxation effect that calms anxiety and renders sleep.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Treatment

The most accessible form of THC is found naturally in cannabis where it is tempered with other natural cannabinoids. Although there are three main strains of the cannabis plant, there are hundreds of hybrid strains, making it a little more difficult to find the THC you are looking for.

thc in cannabis

Of the three main types of cannabis — indica, sativa and ruderalis — sativa has the highest THC content. Hybrid strains that are sativa dominant are the ones you want to look for in your THC therapy. Here are some of the popular ones:



Conditions Relieved

Girl Scout Cookie


stress, pain, depression, lack of appetite, headaches

The White


stress, pain, insomnia, depression, lack of appetite

Death Star


stress, pain, insomnia, depression, muscle spasms

Gorilla Glue #4


stress, pain, depression, insomnia, lack of appetite

Bruce Banner #3


depression, stress, pain, fatigue, nausea

Blissful Wizard


nausea, insomnia, pain, stress lack of appetite



depression, stress, pain, insomnia, fatigue

Ghost Train Haze


depression, stress, pain, fatigue, headaches

When you find a strain of medical cannabis that has the THC level you need and affects the conditions you are concerned about, you are on your way to beginning THC treatments. The next step is to find a delivery system that works best for your situation.

thc consumption

Marijuana does not have to be smoked to gain the medical benefits. There are several other ways to consume medical marijuana to get the relief you need.

  • Vaporized. Vaping is becoming a popular alternative to smoking. Although it looks similar, with portable vaporizers about the size of a pipe, there are health advantages to vaping pot over smoking. Vapor is not as hot as smoke and does not contain the byproducts of burning marijuana. Inhaling the moist vapor may protect your lungs from damage, and it allows the THC to enter your bloodstream through your lungs rather quickly. The effects of vaporizing cannabis can be felt within just a few minutes.
  • Topical applications. Creams and lotions infused with THC can be used for localized areas of pain. They are fast-acting because the THC is absorbed through the skin and works on the nerve ending in that particular region without having to cycle through your bloodstream first. Most topical applications of THC do not get to your brain through your bloodstream. They just block the pain in your extremities.
  • Edibles. Eating marijuana-laced products is a good way to get THC therapy without smoking or swallowing pills. The THC in edibles goes through your digestive system and is then absorbed into your bloodstream. It can take up to an hour or more for you to feel the effects of THC delivered this way. The dose tends to be stronger, though, because it is concentrated when it passes through your liver.
  • Concentrates. Cannabis can be soaked in a solvent like alcohol or oil to dissolve the cannabinoids. When the solids are strained out of the solvent, the result is a very concentrated product. Just a drop or two of a concentrate can deliver a whole dose.

Concentrates can act quickly when placed under the tongue to be absorbed into the bloodstream. THC administered this way goes immediately to the brain and reduces symptoms like nausea instantly.

A marijuana doctor can help you match the proper healing strain of cannabis to your diagnosis and suggest a dosage for you to begin with. When you go to a dispensary to purchase your medical marijuana, the staff there can teach you different ways of taking medical marijuana and find the delivery system you feel comfortable with.

Is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Legal?

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a couple synthetic THC drugs for use with prescription on a limited number of conditions. Marijuana, which contains THC naturally, is still banned by the FDA.

As the psychoactive component to cannabis, THC is the reason marijuana was banned in the mid-1900s. There was concern about addiction and the prevalence of recreational marijuana users in the US, especially around the time of the Vietnam War, and drugs that can make you high were targeted by President Nixon’s war on drugs.

More recently, many states have promoted a medical marijuana program that allows controlled use of cannabis products for medical purposes only. These programs are carefully monitored by state agencies that track the patients, doctors and suppliers.

thc prescription

Most states with medical marijuana programs issue a special certification to doctors who want to prescribe cannabis products to their patients. Doctors receive special training in the accepted uses of medical marijuana and what conditions it can be used to treat.

Patients in those states need to register for the medical marijuana program and are only given access to the medicine if a doctor certifies that they are suffering from a condition that can be improved by cannabis and not by any other means. These states also collect data on which conditions are treated by which strain and if the treatments were successful.

Medical marijuana states regulate the cultivation of cannabis and the production of medical-grade products. In some states, only low-THC cannabis is acceptable for distribution to eligible patients. Dispensaries must verify the patients are registered in the medical marijuana program, and there are limits on how much marijuana product they can sell to an individual at one time.

Because THC is still banned by Federal law, doctors in medical marijuana states do not write prescriptions for the medicine. A marijuana doctor makes a recommendation for cannabis therapy and enters it into the state-wide database with the registered patient’s account. The dispensary has access to this information from the database and can confirm and fill the doctor’s recommendation at the patient’s request.

The possession and transportation of THC or any marijuana product in public is against Federal law, even where states allow it. Some states have begun to set up dispensary delivery services so patients can receive their medical marijuana at home. The dispensaries are licensed and secured to carry the medicine for medical deliveries.

If you’d like to learn more about the THC legislation in your state or would like help contacting a dispensary, contact Marijuana Doctors today!