What Is THC?
What Is THC?
If you are a patient with a marijuana card, you are already familiar with most (if not all) THC’s effects. Even though the cannabis plant has been around for a very long time, we still have a lot to learn about the potential of THC for human wellness.
Your first experience learning about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may have been at a medical or recreational dispensary. Each type of cannabis route (whether whole flower or processed products like vape, concentrates, or edibles) is labeled with a measure of potency.
The amount of THC content determines the potency of any cannabis product. And over time, patients try different potency levels to see what works best to help them moderate symptoms.
But how much do you actually know about THC? This article will discuss the chemical structure and how tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) behaves in the body. And that information can help you make informed choices when you visit your local medical cannabis dispensary.
Is THC Present Only in Cannabis Plants?
For a long time, researchers thought that only cannabis plants and hemp plants had THC content. But now we know that there are a variety of different plants that can produce tetrahydrocannabinol.
Phytocannabinoids have also been discovered in the Rhododendron species of plants, some types of legumes, and liverwort Radula. Certain types of fungi (mushrooms) also produce phytocannabinoids. With minuscule quantities of THC in some cases.
But the highest concentration of phytocannabinoids and THC is found in the cannabis plant species, which includes Cannabis Sativa and hemp. The higher the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration, the greater the physiological and psychoactive effects.
What Is THC and What Does It Do?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, is responsible for most of the physiological and psychological effects of marijuana. Within minutes after ingesting cannabis (depending on the route), you can begin to feel the effects.
One of the reasons is that the body has an endocannabinoid system. We actually have cannabis receptors built into our body. And the biggest concentration of cannabinoid receptors are located in the brain.
The brain registers THC as a native chemical in the body. In fact, THC mimics the function of other cannabinoid chemicals that are produced naturally in the human body.
The CB1 and CB2 receptors bind quickly to THC. When that happens, THC can stimulate cells in the brain to send messages that release dopamine. The pleasure hormone creates a euphoric feeling of happiness and ease.
But THC also impacts messaging from the brain to the central nervous system. Prescription psychotropic drugs for pain (analgesics) work the same way. When THC acts on the CB1 receptor, it can reduce pain sensations.
But THC doesn’t permanently relieve pain; it can help reduce pain symptoms and lessen uncomfortable sensations in the body. And many patients find it can work better than prescription pain medications like opioids and NSAIDs.
Some patients are approved to use doctor-supervised cannabis for mental health conditions as well. In some states, patients can get a medical card for a mental health qualifying condition, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other diagnoses.
What’s Better for Pain, CBD or THC?
Some clinical studies have found that THC is more effective than CBD alone to help moderate pain symptoms. It depends on the health condition and the severity of symptoms. Some people can use clinical-grade cannabidiol (CBD) and find improvement. At the same time, patients with moderate to severe chronic pain relief may not happen with CBD alone.
Patients who live in jurisdictions where medical cannabis is not available and legalized may have only one option; to use CBD. Many clinical trials have suggested cannabidiol (CBD) can help reduce inflammation. Many types of chronic pain are caused by chronic inflammation so it may provide some relief.
Better Together: The Entourage Effects of THC
Interestingly, new studies have determined that cannabinoids work better together! Even a lower-potency cannabis product can be effective with high CBD content. Science doesn’t entirely understand why the “entourage effect” of combining the two primary cannabinoids works better.
Medical dispensaries carry cannabis products that accommodate patients who want to intake THC and CBD together. The cannabidiol content and THC potency for each product are also labeled.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD are considered primary cannabinoids. But there are several hundred cannabinoids provided by the cannabis plant, which may have wellness benefits.
The Big Six Phytocannabinoids
Six phytocannabinoids can work together to provide wellness benefits. There is also CBG, CBC, CBN, THCV, CBD, and THC. Scientific studies have identified these six as the most impactful on the human body. And they are also most plentiful in cannabis plants.
This cannabinoid doesn’t bind very well with the CB1 or CB2 receptors and is not psychoactive. Cannabigerol alone will not make you feel impaired or provide some relief from pain symptoms. However, it does amplify the “bliss molecule” in the body called anandamide and may help sustain the anandamide in the bloodstream longer.
This is known as the “mother cannabinoid” because THC, CBC, and CBD are derived from it. It is found in trace quantities in the cannabis plant (about 1% content). Cannabigerol is non-psychoactive.
This cannabinoid pulls a ‘fast one’ on the human brain; it creates the same effects as THC, making it psychoactive. It has the same molecular structure but is found in trace quantities in cannabis plants.
This cannabinoid is only present after cannabis is decarboxylated and THC is activated. It is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid in higher quantities with ripened or older cannabis plants.
While many people believe that the potency of cannabis is the most important consideration, for medical use, more cannabinoid content may be more effective. But that is not always the case.
Researchers are working hard to figure out the entourage effect. Still, many patients choose cannabis with multiple secondary cannabinoids, even though they are sometimes harder to find in a dispensary.
Is Marijuana the Same Thing as Cannabis?
Marijuana is a term generally used for cannabis that can be consumed, which has psychoactive and physical effects on the body. Culturally, marijuana or marihuana has been used to refer to recreational use.
Cannabis has many names, including weed, Mary Jane, MJ, and skunkweed. But it all refers to the cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid content that female cannabis plants produce. It is the same thing.
How Can THC Help With Mental Wellness?
Many patients use medical marijuana to address physical symptoms for conditions like chronic pain, glaucoma, chronic nausea and Cachexia, digestive inflammation (Crohn’s or IBS) and more. But increasingly, patients are looking at cannabis as an aid to help with certain mental health conditions and symptoms.
The psychoactive effects of THC may help boost mood and energy. This can benefit patients who struggle with major depressive disorders. Some patients suffering from debilitating anxiety or trauma symptoms may also try medical marijuana to help manage symptoms.
Can THC Help With Anxiety?
A combination of certain cannabinoids may help provide feelings of ease and relaxation. Typically hybrid strains of cannabis Sativa and Indica can be useful for patients with moderate to severe anxiety.
That is because THC can create a calming effect by reducing the neurotransmitter that causes anxiety (GABA). Prescription anxiety medications work because they function the same way. However, THC at higher potency levels can increase heart rate and amplify anxiety symptoms. Physicians often suggest a lower potency Sativa or Indica hybrid with high cannabidiol (CBD) content.
Schizophrenia and THC
Patients diagnosed with schizophrenia are not advised to use cannabis to treat their symptoms. That is because some strains and potencies of cannabis may create psychedelic or hallucinatory effects.
For a patient with schizophrenia, cannabis use may worsen their symptoms. And in some cases, patients can develop other serious mental health disorders that can put them at great risk for psychotic episodes.
Using Medical Cannabis for Chronic Insomnia
Insomnia is more than a couple of nights of bad sleep. With more research, we now know that chronic insomnia is a major health concern. Lack of sleep can put patients at risk of developing chronic diseases and mental health disorders.
Indica strains of cannabis are known to cause drowsiness. Some strains can also be highly effective at reducing pain symptoms. The two potential benefits may help patients reduce anxiety and pain and sleep better.
What We Know About Marijuana Use and Depression
Some patients may find that doctor-supervised marijuana can help with symptoms of major depressive disorder. One of the unfortunate things about major depressive disorder is that other therapies and treatments often do not work. That can leave patients struggling to live with difficult symptoms impacting every aspect of their daily lives.
Certain strains of cannabis Sativa can make depression symptoms a little easier to manage. It can help patients with mood disorders, and elevate energy levels, allowing patients to reduce periods of chronic fatigue.
Depression is not a qualifying health condition in every state with legalized medical marijuana. Because cannabis can be both a stimulant and depressant, patients with major depressive disorders should be cautious and work closely with a physician to reduce risks.
Can THC Help Patients Living With Cancer?
The National Cancer Institute shares that some clinical studies have reported reduced tumor growth in patients that use cannabinoid therapies. And that some patients may realize benefits in managing symptoms like pain, nausea and vomiting, and more with medical marijuana use.
One of the benefits that both CBD and THC may offer patients with cancer is help reducing inflammation. Cannabinoids can have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. Certain types of cancer are caused by inflammation, so patients and physicians are open to medical cannabis as a complementary therapy.
The effects of cancer treatment can be devastating for patients. Symptoms caused by chemotherapy can include hot flashes, appetite loss, headaches, body pain, nausea, and vomiting. Different strains of cannabis can stimulate appetite and reduce nausea. And some types of cannabis with moderate THC potency may help moderate pain symptoms for patients with cancer.
What is Considered High THC?
When state medical cannabis laws began to legalize marijuana, the levels of THC in cannabis in the United States began to rise. That is because commercial cultivatrespondedding to the demand for patients with moderate to severe conditions.
Before legalization, illicit cannabis was imported from Mexico (and sometimes discreetly grown at home). But in the 1970s, the average potency of marijuana ranged from 2% to 7%. Today, the cannabis products that are legally available in dispensaries are much (much) higher.
How high is high potency? It may depend on who you ask because patients who are new to using medical cannabis may find that THC content above 15% is high potenPatientsents who have been using medical marijuana for years may have developed a tolerance, requiring higher levels of THC.
On average, most people consider cannabis with a potency of 20% or more at the upper end. Dispensaries recommend that new patients start with a lower potency of around 10% and adjust according to need.
How Strong Are Cannabis Concentrates?
Some states permit cannabis concentrates at the top end of the potency spectrum. Cannabis concentrate products include distillate, rosin, wax, kief, and cannabis isolates. In Florida, for example, concentrated cannabis can range from 40% to over 80% potency.
Cannabis concentrates are only recommended for patientwithve severe and debilitating symptoms, whereas othef prescription medications or therapies have not worked to provide relief.
The Risks of Using Cannabis Concentrates
Long-term use of cannabis concentraregularlyasis (daily or multiple times per week) can increase the risk of developing negative side effects, including cannabis hyperemesis syndrome.
Cannabis hyperemesis can result in symptoms of painful and persistent vomiting and nausea. When high concentrations of cannabis are used habitually, it can cause the body to develop something like an allergic reaction. Not just to cannabis but all cannabinoids. And patients who develop cannabis hyperemesis are unable to consume cannabis. Or be around people who are using cannabis, with experiencing uncomfortable symptoms.
There are also some studies that suggest systemic use of highly concentrated cannabis may contribute to mental health problems, including psychosis. Because clinical studies of cannabis have been recent, there are no long-term studies about the side effects or health risks of using marijuana regularly.
Physicians may recommend cannabis concentrates for patients in end-of-life or hospice care. Where the side effects for a terminal patient are less of a consideration versus the benefits of the relief that cannabis can provide. Other patients are cautioned to use concentrated cannabis sparingly until we better understand the health risks of high-potency marijuana.
Are Cannabinoids Helpful in Treating Health Conditions?
Until cannabis is federally legalized and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is illegal to present cannabis as a cure or medical treatment for any health condition. There is not enough research to determine the long-term effects of cannabis.
However, with research, state medical cannabis laws acknowledge that for some symptoms of debilitating health conditions, cannabis may be a good (and safer) therapeutic option. And patients may use cannabis as part of complementary and integrative health treatment plants.
Before states legalized medical cannabis, there were systematic reviews of domestic and global clinical studies. The information provided by those studies directed what qualifying health conditions or diagnoses could be approved for medical cannabis use.
Cannabis does not cure or resolve any health condition, according to what clinical studies have shown us so far. But what is widely accepted is that for some patients, medical marijuana may help manage symptoms. And that improvement can be beneficial for patients.
Can You Get Addicted to THC?
While it is widely held that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is not addictive, clinical studies have shown patients can experience withdrawal symptoms. Typically we consider other Schedule 1 drugs more addictive, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and others.
However, enough evidence now suggests that the body can develop a tolerance to THC. Over time, patients may need to increase the potency of the medical marijuana they use. And while the withdrawal symptoms from cannabis may not be as pronounced as other drugs, it is possible to develop a moderate dependency on cannabis, particularly if you use it for symptom management.
Are THC and CBD Infused Foods and Beverages Legal?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)s, a federal regulator, no foods or beverages with THC or CBD content may be sold. This remains the federal law, even though cannabidiol was legalized in the 2018 Farm Act.
All cannabinoids that have psychoactive effects are considered controlled substances. Until cannabis is decriminalized and legalized by the federal government, the drug enforcement administration (DEA) can press charges against any business that produces or sells foods or beverages with THC content.
If you have traveled through the United States, you may have seen several jurisdictions where cannabis foods and beverages are sold. So it may not feel very clear. That is because there is a division between state law and federal laws when it comes to cannabis.
You may legally buy and consume them in a stere permitted by local laws but don’t order them online or travel with them. For example, having cannabis-infused foods or beverages delivered by USPS can result in a felony charge.
How DocMJ Helps Patients
Patients who want to try medical marijuana as part of a doctor-supervised treatment plan trust the physicians and support team at DocMJ. Since 2016, we have been a reliable educational resource and cannabis healthcare provider. And we now serve patients in five states across America.
In Florida, DocMJ has thirty (30) conveniently located clinics where patients can get their medical card health evaluation, including DocMJ in Wellington, Florida.
Our compassionate physicians provide information and guidance for patients and help each patient make an informed choice about medical marijuana. And will help you develop a treatment plan to help you integrate medical cannabis with other therapies to help address your wellness needs.
Aaron Bloom serves as the CEO, overseeing the mission and growth of DocMJ and Medwell Health and Wellness Centers. Aaron’s passion for improving patients’ lives comes from his background in health care. For more than 20 years, Aaron owned, operated, and represented traditional healthcare organizations. This experience created a passion for finding improved ways to relieve suffering. His goal as CEO is to work daily to relieve all patients who seek better health and wellness through the medicinal benefits of medical cannabis and evidence-based alternative medicines.