What Is THC? And Why Is It So Good?
There’s no getting high off the good ole green without THC, but what is THC and how does it work?
Most smokers have heard this buzzword before, but not many know its chemical composition or the science behind how THC affects that brain and body. Every cerebral buzz you feel from smoking a well-packed bowl or leisurely spliff is directly proportional to the cannabis plant’s THC concentration. But why is that?
In this article, the experts at Honest Marijuana tell you all the dirty details you’ll need to know to become an authority on all things THC (at least in your own head). Along the way, we’ll discuss such essential topics as:
- What is THC?
- How was THC discovered?
- What are some common ways to consume THC?
- How is THC medicinal?
That’s a lot to cover! So light up a toke and get ready to tuck in as we unearth the secrets of one of nature’s best beauties.
What Is THC?
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a chemical secreted by the glands of the marijuana plant. It is found in high doses around the reproductive organs, as well as in the resin glands of the bud or flower of the female pot plant.
Although THC is only one of 85 plus chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient. It takes almost all the credit for creating your cerebral high.
Whereas humans use THC to get high, marijuana plants use THC to fend off natural predators like parasites, bacteria, and viruses. THC doesn’t produce antibacterial properties in people but, CBG (cannabigerol) a non-psychoactive compound also found in cannabis, does. Dr. Mary Jane always makes sure we get exactly what we need from our weed.
How Was THC Discovered?
It’s no surprise that THC was first discovered during the 60’s. Bulgarian-born chemist Rafael Mechoulam, who wanted also wanted to know what is THC, is now considered the godfather of cannabinoid research.
When he first started his studies into the properties of pot, Rafael was faced with a common problem among cannabis smokers: how to obtain a large quantity of marijuana legally. So where did he get his fix from? His friends in the Israeli police
The five kilograms of hash gifted to Rafael by the Israeli police formed the scientific stash that led to groundbreaking findings in biochemical cannabis research.
Mechoulam was the first-ever scientist to successfully separate the THC compound. His pioneered the identification of the structure, psychophysiological effects, and synthesis of THC. You may assume it was a love for the good ole green that sparked Mechoulam’s research, but it was in fact his interest in natural medicine.
Because of his research into the medicinal properties of weed, people started to see marijuana as a possible form of medication, and not just for recreation.
How Does THC Affect The Brain And Body?
You may be familiar with the feeling you get from ingesting THC, but how familiar are you with what’s actually happening inside you when you light one up?
When you smoke, THC gets released into your blood and swims quickly upstream, reaching your brain in a matter of seconds. THC then mimics cannabinoid chemicals that occur naturally in the body attaches itself to your cannabinoid receptors.
These areas are found in the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia and are connected to the processes of thinking, memory, motor movements, pleasure, coordination, and concentration.
The reason THC affects these areas so much more than other active cannabinoids, like CBD, comes down to shape. Because of its specific molecular structure, THC binds like a bud in a rug to your neurotransmitters – the spaces that carry communication between your neurons. It mimics anandamide (the bliss molecule), which is a natural cannabinoid found in the body.
Once firmly attached, THC takes on anandamide’s role, stimulating the brain cells to release more dopamine. This hormone is what’s responsible for all those good vibes you feel when buzzing. Once pleasantly planted in the brain, THC can cause a range of sensory side effects including euphoria, alertness, calmness, fragmentary thoughts or light-headedness.
Sometimes you may find these vibes so good that they overshadow your short-term memory. Ever headed to the kitchen only to forget what munchies you came in search for? THC can be blamed for fuddling with your hippocampus which is the control center for memory.
If the THC high comes on too strong, other buzz-killing side effects may also include dizziness, depression, anxiety or fatigue. Physical effects can include pain inhibition, a slowing down of motor movements, dry mouth and an increase in appetite.
Different tokes for different folks. Each person will be unique in how THC affects them.
How Potent Is Your Pot?
No two tokes are alike. The strength and duration of your THC hit will depend on the particular marijuana strain as well as on your choice of ingestion. Weed varieties with a THC level of more than 20% are considered particularly potent. Such strains can include the likes of Sour Diesel (15-25%), Yoda OG (up to 28%) and Blue Dream (17-24%).
But just as no two tokes are alike, no two crops are alike either. One farmer’s harvest of Blue Dream may have higher or lower THC levels than another’s, as a result of growing conditions, environmental effects or genetic phenotypes. It’s a surprise in every baggie.
How you choose to consume your cannabis will also affect how hard the THC hits you. In its raw plant form, THC doesn’t fit the shape of human neurotransmitters. That means that munching on raw marijuana won’t get you high. Of all the rotten luck, right?
To get your ganja ready to party, as it were, you have to apply heat (decarboxylate it) in one form or another in order to remove one of the carbon groups that prevents the THC molecule from binding with the proper receptors.
Smoking and vaping are two common forms of decarboxylation, but what if you want to bake with your bud? Can you just dump your baggie of booyah in the brownie batter and go?
Sadly, no. You have to do a bit of manual decarboxylation first. Sounds both naughty and fun at the same time. Let’s have a look.
How To Decarboxylate Your Weed
Decarboxylation occurs naturally when you light up your doobie or bong. But if you want to use your grass in some edible goodies, make a THC oil, or whip up a tincture, you’re going to need to decarboxylate first. Here’s how to do it at home.
1) Preheat your oven to 230°F.
2) Break up your dried bud into small pieces.
3) Spread the pieces on a baking sheet.
4) Bake the bud for 35 minutes.
5) Stir the cannabis every 10 minutes to ensure even toasting.
6) After 35 minutes, check the cannabis. It should be a light-brown color. If it’s not, put it back in for another five minutes. Keep an eagle eye out so you don’t burn your bud.
7) Remove the baking sheet and set it aside to cool.
8) Put the baked bud in a food processor and grind until it resembles oregano.
After that, you’re good to go. Now you can mix up some delicious cannabutter, make your own shatter or wax, or brew your own liquid THC. Of course, you can always rely on the more common methods of consuming THC that we’ll discuss in the next section.
Common Methods Of Consuming THC
There are so many different ways to consume cannabis these days, it’s easy to get lost in a maze of possibilities. But don’t fret. When you’re feeling confused, it’s best to fall back on one of these tried-and-true methods.
There are many ways to inhale the sweet smoke of freshly combusted cannabis: joint, blunt, bong, hookah, bubbler, hand pipe etc. Smoking is arguably the most popular form of pot consumption, and is the fastest way to get a THC fix.
When smoking, as much as 50-60% of the weed’s THC concentration can enter the blood plasma and make its way up to the brain in a couple of seconds flat. The high will hit hard but will need to be topped up regularly to keep the buzz going.
For more information on smoking your THC, check out these helpful articles:
- How Does A Bong Work And Should You Use One?
- Puff, Puff, Pass: The Complete Weed Etiquette Guide
- Why Does Weed Make You Hungry?
- Edibles Vs. Smoking: The Definitive Marijuana Guide
- What’s The Best Way To Smoke Weed: 18 Ways To Burn Down
Vaping is fast becoming a trend in health-conscious cannabis communities. This hand-held device heats the cannabinoids to a temperature that’s high enough to release the psychoactive properties of THC, but low enough not to let off the harmful toxins that accompany combustion.
Using this method, up to 95% of cannabinoids are ingested as opposed to only 12% when smoking a regular joint. Vaping butane hash oil can also be one helluva headrush as it contains 80% THC. This method is recommended for the seasoned pothead rather than the newbie user.
If you’re curious about vaping your THC and want to learn more, take a few moments to read the following articles:
- How To Vape THC And CBD: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Vaping
- THC Cartridges: The Complete Guide To Pre-Filled Oil Vape Cartridges
- THC Vape Juice: What It Is & How To Use It
- Honest Marijuana Vaping Temperature Chart: 2021 Guide
We all know that eating marijuana creates a stronger and longer buzz than smoking or vaping, but why is that?
“In a nutshell, eaten cannabis gets metabolized by the liver, so delta-9 THC becomes 11-hydroxy-THC, which passes the blood-brain barrier more rapidly and has more of a psychedelic effect than standard THC,” says Understanding Marijuana author Mitch Earleywine, “smoked or vaporized cannabis bypasses the liver and doesn’t create the same 11-hydroxy-THC.”
When munching marijuana, only 10-20% of the cannabinoids are released at a time but the high can last up to a mammoth 6 hours.
Find out more about this fun and effective method of ingesting cannabis in these informative articles:
- Cannabis Stem Tea: What It Is And How To Make It
- CBD Coffee: 6 Benefits And How To Make Your Own
- How To Make Edibles: The Honest Way
- Weed Edibles: Your Complete Guide
- How To Make Cannabis Butter: The Ultimate Guide
Absorbing THC refers to a number of different methods of consumption that don’t involve smoking, drinking, or eating.
The easiest way to understand these methods is to look at the products involved. Common “absorption” products include:
- Dissolvable strips
With a tincture, you administer a few drops under your tongue (sublingually) and hold it there without swallowing while the liquid absorbs into your bloodstream.
Patches are a discreet method of THC consumption. Like their nicotine counterparts, you apply a THC patch to your skin and go about your day. Effects can last anywhere from four to six hours.
THC creams are for the more targeted relief of medical symptoms rather than getting high. Your skin does an incredible job of preventing foreign substances from getting into your bloodstream so the THC won’t make its way to your brain (where the psychedelic high originates). But the THC can soothe sore muscles when applied correctly.
If you’ve ever seen or tried a breath-freshening strip, you’ll be familiar with the concept of dissolvable THC strips. Like the tincture, you place the strip under your tongue or against your cheek. You hold it there while the strip dissolves and absorbs into your bloodstream through the soft tissue in your mouth.
Absorbing cannabis — rather than ingesting or smoking — is fast becoming a popular method of consumption thanks to the many new and innovative products that are coming to market.
Find The Right Dose
THC can be a tricky animal to deal with. Don’t take enough and you won’t feel the relief you need or the high you expect. Take too much and you’ll get way too high. It’s a fine line that can make you nervous and negate the fun and relaxation that cannabis promises.
Here’s how to find the right dose for your situation.
One of the best ways to find the right dose is to experiment with a one-hitter. These simple smoking devices hold around 0.1 gram per hit. That makes it easy to calculate how much THC it takes to get you high.
Five hits from a one hitter? That’s about 0.5 grams. Next time, you can roll a 0.5-gram joint and toke away without worrying that you’ll overdo it.
With vaporizers, you can’t accurately gauge how much THC you’re getting, so you need to be careful. And because the THC liquid is more concentrated than regular dried bud, it may take fewer hits from a vaporizer to send you soaring.
The nice thing about vaporizers is that you don’t have to consume the whole thing right away. Take one hit, set the vape pen aside, and see how you react.
A few minutes later, go back and take another hit. Continue this method until you’re nicely baked. Keep track of how many hits and how much liquid it took to get you to this point so you’ll know for future reference.
Edibles are one of the easiest and strongest consumption methods for getting THC into your system.
That means it takes considerably less than your average joint to get you high. The recommended starting dose for all things edible is 10 milligrams (0.1 gram), but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go as low as 5 milligrams (0.05 gram) if it’s your first time.
Unfortunately, the long wait time means that it’s very easy to overdo it. You’re waiting and waiting and nothing’s happening, so you pop another cannabis candy.
Then the 90-minute mark rolls around and—WHAM!—you’re down the rabbit hole with the walls closing in and a bad trip on the way.
With edibles, your best bet is to start small, be patient, and increase slowly.
How Is THC Medicinal?
When released in the brain, this psychoactive compound can cause an array of positive symptoms: pain relief, nausea and vomiting calmer, muscle relaxant, mood enhancer, appetite stimulator, etc.
THC can also be used to treat disorders like PTSD, Tourette’s, insomnia, asthma, and glaucoma. Some believe that THC containing pill, Dronabinol, is more effective than smoking a spliff, but you’ll have to test that out for yourself.
Despite lacking the psychoactive ingredient necessary for building a cerebral high, CBD has a host of other health qualities.
CBD-rich strains cut down the effects of possible paranoia, anxiety and memory impairment that sneak in with a THC rich spliff. This has sparked more studies into the symbiotic benefits of smoking the right ratio of THC and CBD together.
The Final Toke On THC
Most folks know that THC is the main ingredient in any marijuana strain, but not everyone knows what it is and what it does. Some people choose to refuse it has any health benefits, while others swear by the spliff. As with anything cannabis related, THC is a hot topic.
As THC becomes more and more accepted as a member of the medicine scene, new research is pointing to ever surprising benefits of pot. It may even promote the growth of new brain cells! That’s a whole lot of green goodness.
Next time you light one up, ponder on the medical magic of your THC rich pot and enjoy the buzz.