What is THC? (Our Guide)

What is THC?

6 minute read

Updated July 15th, 2021

Ooooh. Let's talk about THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). This is the fun stuff.

When somebody mentions 'Cannabis', most people think about the stuff we all learned about in drugs prevention videos. Well, that is all down to the Cannabinoid THC.

THC is the second most abundant cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant alongside CBD, and has become famous as the rock and roll cannabinoid that gets you high. Unlike CBD or CBG (technically), THC is psychoactive and therefore alters the way in which your brain works and triggers an intense feeling of euphoria (and in the process basically makes you high).

THC is therefore prohibited by the Misuse of Drugs act 1971 and the legal limit in CBD food supplements is 0.2%. THC is a banned substance across the world, but as science (and progressive thinking about Cannabis) moves on, we are starting to understand the compound much better. THC is present in varying concentrations across cannabis strains such as wedding cake, mimosa and amnesia haze.

THC has somewhat of a bad reputation for being harmful but there is a lot of grey when it comes to understanding this cannabinoid fully. All may not be as bad as it seems. Hopefully, after reading this blog post, you will gain a newfound understanding and respect for this Cannabinoid. THC could be something amazing, but it certainly should be handled with care.

What does THC do?

Like all Cannabinoids, THC attaches itself to the Endocannabinoid System which is a network of receptors woven throughout our body. The THC compounds only attach themselves to the CB1 receptors which can be found in the brain and, immune & nervous system.

As a compound, THC is very surprisingly similar to an Endocannabinoid (a cannabinoid that we synthesis inside of our body) called Anandamide which has the same effects- have you ever gone for a run and get the rush of euphoria (often called a 'runners high')?

When an abundance of THC molecules attach to our cannabinoid receptors, it stimulates the part of our brain that processes pleasure and induces the mass production of Dopamine. This can make colours seem brighter, sounds louder and gives us what is often referred to as a 'rush'.

Research is ongoing in THC however, there are lots, and lots of benefits that are being investigated and THC is a fundamental compound for the future of cannabis supplements. As THC alters the signals to our brains, it could be utilised in lots of very exciting ways.

What are the benefits of THC?

While medical research is ongoing it is hard to say specifically all of the benefits of THC, and what conditions it can be used for. There are however a bunch that we suspect more than others.

  • pain
  • muscle spasticity
  • glaucoma
  • insomnia (Induces Falling Asleep but Reduces REM)
  • low appetite
  • nausea
  • anxiety

THC has been associated with a whole load of health benefits - completely opposite to what has been previously thought.

Is THC bad for us?

This is a little bit of a complicated question. Unfortunately, down to the fact that Cannabis has been illegal for as long as we can remember, research into the plant has been very limited; however, there are some very exciting uses for THC in medical research. It is a key ingredient in many of the medical cannabis products that are being researched and produced by pharmaceutical companies.

Dopamine in abundance, can alter the way that we perceive reality (time distortion, hallucinations), affect our motor functions and could trigger a wide range of negative reactions such as paranoia and the potential to exacerbate preexisting mental health issues. Despite what is often banded around online, THC may be addictive and lead to a potentially harmful habit- but like most of us who drink alcohol or coffee, the risks of addiction are the same.

Due to its illegal status, a gulf in understanding has created two camps; those who believe that Cannabis - in every circumstance - dangerous and harmful, and those who believe that it is in all circumstances completely safe (and often followed by an intense love of conspiracy theories).

As you'd expect, the truth lays somewhere in the middle. As more people use Cannabis, this community in the middle is growing. So, is THC dangerous?

Short Term effects of THC

Let's be clear, too much of anything is bad for us. Salt, Sugar, Nutmeg, Cinnamon or Chilli Powder in high doses can cause you some very serious problems (too much nutmeg is actually fatal) but in a small amount, each substance can be beneficial to our health. In the short term, THC overuse can be frightening but is often harmless (other than a little bit of brain fog the next day for example). I am sure we have all read stories or heard about 'bad trips' from movies.

While there is no evidence that you can actually overdose on the compound THC but if you consume too much, it can cause some side effects: this includes hallucinations, extreme paranoia, anxiety, impaired cognitive function, impaired motor controls and more. For most people, this only lasts a couple of hours and there are a number of ways that can help you calm down and sober up from too much THC.

The most common exacerbation we often associate with Cannabis is with a sense of 'paranoia'. Surprisingly enough, this doesn't happen to everybody. This is caused by a 'reactionary' response that is part of our body trying to return itself back to an equilibrium. Our brain overcompensates in an attempt to regulate the balance of chemicals in the brain. This can trigger the intense feeling of anxiety and paranoia.

Short term use of THC is actually very safe - the occasional use (or overuse) of THC seems to be all part of the fun.


Long Term effects of THC Abuse

Much like anything - if you consume too much you will suffer from side effects. If you eat too many carrots then you may turn orange.

In the long term, it has been found that regular users of Cannabis have a much higher rate of anxiety than those who do not smoke regularly; they are also predisposed to other mental health issues too.

Secondly, high THC cannabis does slow your brain function and can affect your memory. When we consume THC our synapses (which are what helps our brain function) start to fire more slowly. It is exactly what makes us feel 'intoxicated' - the same process happens when we drink alcohol. Once or twice, every so often, may not cause any problems, but if you are a heavy regular user of cannabis this can have a long term impact on your cognitive function.

In short, your brain is a muscle that needs exercise. When abusing Cannabis, you inhibit its ability to work properly over a long period of time, your brainpower will reduce significantly and will become certainly become slower. Not only will your cognitive function be impacted but your memory and organisational skills can be seriously affected.

THC is much like alcohol in the fact that it can make you feel intoxicated and unusual, but there are certain complications when abusing the substance. Although THC can be potentially useful, it certainly should be used with a great deal of respect.

Now, this is the interesting bit.

What is the difference between THC & CBD?

In recent years, CBD has become very well known as the 'good' cannabinoid and THC as the 'bad' one. In fact, the two cannabinoids are proven to work together in tandem. It is a fact that CBD has the ability to regulate the psychoactivity of THC and sober you up if you take too much THC. So, what this means is if THC and CBD are in the right ratio, then you could take a Cannabis oil that contains THC without getting high. Interesting.

Sadly, as Cannabis that is purchased on the streets illegally is often grown specifically to have a very high concentration of THC that can be very potent: this means that the Cannabis you can purchase illegally is potentially quite harmful. Naturally, the plant should also contain at least a significant amount of CBD to regulate the side effects of THC. This would make consumption more controlled.

Some of our favourite CBD products contain a little bit of THC in them (we call these "full-spectrum" products). For example, check out our best CBD oil UK page and you'll see a few full-spectrum CBD products listed from brands such as Blessed CBD, CBDiablo and Hempura. The reason that we like full-spectrum CBD products is because when consumed, all of the cannabinoids work in harmony to provide the consumer with a sense of bliss (known as the "entourage effect").

More information about THC:

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects - think of it as the complete opposite of CBD. Most CBD products will contain a very small amount of THC, usually around 0.2% at least. This would never be enough to make you feel any of the psychoactive effects. However some products like vape liquids can contain THC, and if you vape this you'll definitely notice a little high (nothing compared to the full blown stuff mind you). 

How does THC make you feel high?

THC attaches to cannabinoid receptors which are concentrated in certain areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. It then activates them and affects a person's memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception, which is what contributes towards the feeling of being 'high'.

CBD actually blocks the high associated with THC consumption, which is why CBD is often used to counteract the effects of THC on the body. THC stimulates cells in the brain to release dopamine and it also interferes with how information is processed in the hippocampus. It can also induce hallucinations - usually, these effects last for about two hours, and will start about 15 minutes after consumption of THC.

Hopefully this guide has helped you learn a bit more about the cannabinoid THC. We think there is a big future for THC and we'll be paying close attention!

What is THC?

In Conclusion

THC is a controversial substance and can certainly cause issues if consumed in high doses. But generally speaking, it is a very safe compound to consume, particularly when consumed alongside CBD.

This guide was published by the CBD Bible team. We publish hundreds of guides every month, feel free to explore our website for more reviews and CBD guides.

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Harry is the primary writer at CBD Bible. He has been writing about CBD for more than 5 years and has had his writing featured on a number of high-profile publications. Find him on Twitter @CBDBibleUK