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Breaking Down Cannabinoids: Understanding the Role of THC

What Are Cannabinoids?

Commonly found within cannabis plants, cannabinoids are chemical compounds that can interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system within the human body. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating the body’s physiological and cognitive processes, which means the cannabinoids in cannabis can affect a person’s mood, memory, and sensory perceptions when an interaction occurs (Milton, 2023).

inspecting cannabis
Photo by Kindel Media

There are over a hundred identified cannabinoids present in cannabis, each with its unique capabilities to cause an effect on the human body. The most well-known cannabinoids from cannabis plants are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive compound, meaning it gives cannabis consumers the feeling of being high that is commonly associated with cannabis consumption, and cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound that does not cause sensations of being high, but does provide calming benefits (Milton, 2023). Let’s dive into the most highly sought-after cannabinoid in cannabis called THC.

What is THC?

When thinking about the most commonly known effects consuming cannabis may illicit, its psychoactive effects are likely what may come to mind. This effect is caused by the THC cannabinoid, which is short for tetrahydrocannabinol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), when THC attaches to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, it can affect a person’s concentration, coordination, memory, movements, pleasure, and perception of time (Bradford, 2017). Additionally, NIDA also explains that THC can encourage the brain to release dopamine which can create a feeling of euphoria, and it can also interfere with the processing of information in the hippocampus portion of the brain, which is “responsible for forming new memories,” (Bradford, 2017).

When used recreationally, cannabis products containing THC cannabinoids can induce relaxation and cause euphoric sensations. Although cannabis plants and products that contain the THC cannabinoid are commonly used recreationally, some research points to the THC cannabinoid as having medicinal properties that may be beneficial for a wide range of medical conditions (Tabackman, 2021).

THC is also a cannabinoid that will build up in your system over time, meaning your frequency of consumption will correlate to the length of time THC may remain in your body. Frequent cannabis users will find THC can remain in the body’s system for up to 30 days, while an infrequent user may find THC isn’t detectable for one to three days after consumption. The method of cannabis consumption will also impact THC’s longevity in your body, with edibles lasting longer than smoking or vaping (Tabackman, 2021).

What Are The Benefits of THC?

Now that we’ve established a grounding for cannabinoids and THC, let’s explore THC’s benefits. Cannabis plants as a whole have been used medicinally for more than 3,000 years, according to the National Cancer Institute, though their exact medicinal benefits are still undergoing extensive research (Bradford, 2017). As previously mentioned, the THC cannabinoid has proven to provide medicinal benefits in certain areas, while more research and anecdotal evidence indicate the potential for additional medicinal properties that could treat other medical conditions (Tabackman, 2021).

Currently, there are two synthetic formulations approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) that contain the THC cannabinoid, comprising of Nabilone and Dronabinol. Nabilone, also known as Cesamet, is used to treat vomiting and nausea commonly caused by the side effects of chemotherapy treatments. Similarly, Dronabinol, also known as Marinol or Syndros, is used to treat vomiting and nausea caused by the side effects of chemotherapy drugs. Dronabinol is also approved for patients struggling with anorexia or diagnosed with AIDS as the drug can stimulate appetite (Holland, 2021).

Outside of the FDA-approved drugs containing THC, studies also show that the THC cannabinoid can help with anxiety, depression, nausea, pain, insomnia, and muscle spasticity. Additionally, some studies indicate the potential to use THC as a treatment for chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia and chronic neuropathic pain, as well as obstructive sleep apnea (Holland, 2021). In a study conducted in 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “discovered a meaningful link between cannabinoids and pain relief,” (Milton, 2023).

While the THC cannabinoid has its medicinal and recreational benefits, there can certainly be some downsides to overdoing it on your consumption. THC may not have fatal effects when consuming high doses, but it may cause some uncomfortable side effects, including increased anxiety, paranoia, nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth (Tabackman, 2021).

Types of Products with THC

There are a wide variety of cannabis products on the market that contain THC. After all, cannabis products with this cannabinoid are what makes the plant so valuable. Products containing the THC cannabinoid can be purchased in flower or bud form, which is the natural dried form of the cannabis plant. THC products can also be found in forms such as oil-based concentrates, cannabis-infused edibles including food and beverages, tinctures, and topical products such as cannabis-infused lotions and dermal patches (Tabackman, 2021).

Visit our blog to learn more about cannabis cultivation and the latest information on cannabis lab testing!

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Bradford, A. (2018, May 18). What is THC? Live Science.

Holland, K. (2022, September 14). What is THC? Healthline.

Milton, S. (2023, June 3). What are Cannabinoids: Their Benefits, Side Effects, & More. Discover Magazine.

Tabackman, L. (2021, May 3). Everything you need to know about THC including 4 health benefits, potential risks, and how long it stays in your system. Insider.


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