THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. It acts much like the cannabinoid chemicals made naturally by the body, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in certain areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. THC attaches to these receptors and activates them and affects a person’s memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception, according to NIDA.
THC is one of many compounds found in the resin secreted by glands of the marijuana plant. More of these glands are found around the reproductive organs of the plant than on any other area of the plant. Other compounds unique to marijuana, called cannabinoids, are present in this resin. One cannabinoid, CBD is nonpsychoactive, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and actually blocks the high associated with THC.
THC has the chemical formula C₂₁H₃₀O₂, with a molecular mass of 314.464 g/mol. But, it is very similar in structure and molecular mass to its counterpart CBD, which dilutes the effects of THC.
THC brags a variety of uses, both medicinal and recreational.
Among dozens, THC can be used in syrups, edibles, oils used via tinctures, drops, in medicines, and topicals including lotions and balms used for anti-inflammation.
THC and cannabis can also be used on animals like dogs for pain relief and calming anxiety.
Additionally, Marinol, a medication made with synthetic THC, is the only currently FDA approved THC medication.
THC Side Effects
Still, despite a variety of uses that have many doctors, producers, and investors optimistic, THC may have some negative side effects that ought to be considered.
In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a study on the Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids. Among the experts who contributed to the study was Dr. William Checkley, M.D., Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. As an associate professor at Johns Hopkins as well as a pulmonary and critical care specialist, Dr. Checkley claims there may be more negative effects of THC than many experts believe.
“One of the biggest issues with cannabis is when you smoke it. It is not just the drug that you’re smoking in…there are also all different kinds of components that come in with the burning of any substance,” Dr. Checkley told TheStreet. “There is substantial evidence supporting an association between cannabis smoking and respiratory symptoms. And people who smoke cannabis have more frequent episodes of respiratory symptoms and in particular, chronic bronchitis, which is a combination of cough and phlegm.”
Still, the doctor said the study was somewhat inconclusive on the extent of these effects.
“It’s clear that if you stop smoking cannabis, your respiratory symptoms can improve,” Dr. Checkley said. “What is less clear is that we couldn’t really separate how it is with people who smoke cannabis frequently or chronically — whether they are high risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is what you see with tobacco smoke.”
And that seems to be the general consensus on cannabis-based studies — that they are, to some degree, inconclusive. Still, Dr. Checkley claims the study seemed to dispel some of the common ideas that THC has more beneficial properties than it may actually possess.
According to Dr. Checkley, the study couldn’t find any link between cannabis or cannabinoid use and many of its supposed benefits.
However, the report allegedly found some connection with THC or cannabis use and certain psychiatric conditions.
“One aspect of the report showed that there was a strong link between the use of cannabis and the development of schizophrenia,” Dr. Checkley continued. “And also that the use of cannabis was also associated with mania or hyper mania in people that had bipolar disorder diagnoses. And there has also been a small increased risk of depression as well as increased incidents of suicide attempts and completion. And there was also increased incidents of social anxiety disorder.”
Other studies done last year have shown similar conclusions, although all remain somewhat skeptical. Results published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics by researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Israel may shed additional light on the relationship between THC use and psychiatric problems.
“Our research demonstrates that cannabis has a differential risk on susceptible versus non-susceptible individuals,” Dr. Ran Barzilay, psychiatrist at TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine told Medical News Today in 2017. “In other words, young people with a genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia — those who have psychiatric disorders in their families — should bear in mind that they’re playing with fire if they smoke pot during adolescence.”
Apart from psychiatric problems and doubt over its benefits for curing symptoms, THC use has also been linked to reduced motor skills, Dr. Checkley says. The study used 21 studies from different countries with a sample size of almost 240,000 participants, claims Dr. Checkley.
“One of the things that we found was that some reported cannabis use with traces of THC in the blood or saliva was associated with about… 20% to 30% higher odds of vehicle crash,” Dr. Checkley explained to TheStreet. “And this was pretty consistent, so it didn’t really matter how you looked at the data. And so I think the information there was pretty robust, given the number of studies and given the number of countries, and the number of participants supporting that relationships between cannabis use and the increased chances of being in a motor vehicle crash.”
However, despite numerous studies, all of the experts seem to agree that due to cannabis’ classification as a Schedule 1 drug, the limited studies researchers are able to perform leave the substance’s actual effects very much still in question.
In fact, most are optimistic about THC and cannabis’ health benefits.
According to the National Cancer Institute, marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for more than 3,000 years. As of early 2017, more than half of the United States has legalized the use of medicinal marijuana. Several states have also legalized the drug for recreational use, as well.
THC can be extracted from marijuana, or synthesized, as is the case for the FDA-approved drug dronabinol. Dronabinol is used to treat or prevent the nausea and vomiting associated with cancer medicines and to increase the appetites of people with AIDS, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It is a light yellow resinous oil.
Other studies are showing more evidence that, when used properly, THC has many additional medical benefits. For example, THC may be able to improve memory when taken in small doses, according to a 2016 study on mice. Advertisement
People tout marijuana as a better drug than prescription pills because it is “all-natural.” That may not be true. “Just because something is considered ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” Raskin said. “For example, poison oak can be harmful. Just because it grows in the ground doesn’t mean it’s good for you or healthy.”
CBD vs. THC: Chemical structure
Both CBD and THC have the exact same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. A slight difference in how the atoms are arranged accounts for the differing effects on your body.
Both CBD and THC are chemically similar to your body’s endocannabinoids. This allows them to interact with your cannabinoid receptors.
The interaction affects the release of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for relaying messages between cells and have roles in pain, immune function, stress, and sleep, to name a few.
CBD vs. THC: Psychoactive components
Despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC don’t have the same psychoactive effects. CBD is psychoactive, just not in the same manner as THC. It doesn’t produce the high associated with THC. CBD is shown to help with anxiety, depression, and seizures.
THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain. It produces a high or sense of euphoria.
CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to CB1 receptors. CBD needs THC to bind to the CB1 receptor and, in turn, can help reduce some of the unwanted psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria or sedation.
CBD vs. THC: Legality
In the United States, cannabis-related laws are evolving regularly. Technically, CBD is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law.
Hemp has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still classify CBD as a Schedule I drug.
However, 33 states plus Washington, D.C., have passed cannabis-related laws, making medical cannabis with high levels of THC legal. The cannabis may need to be prescribed by a licensed physician.
In addition, several states have made recreational use of cannabis and THC legal.
In states where cannabis is legal for recreational or medical purposes, you should be able to buy CBD.
Before you try to buy products with CBD or THC, it’s important to research your state’s laws.
If you possess cannabis-related products in a state where they’re illegal or don’t have a medical prescription in states where the products are legal for medical treatment, you could face legal penalties.
CBD vs. THC: Medical benefits
CBD and THC have many of the same medical benefits. They can provide relief from several of the same conditions. However, CBD doesn’t cause the euphoric effects that occur with THC. Some people may prefer to use CBD because of the lack of this side effect.
In June 2018, the FDA approvedTrusted Source Epidiolex, the first prescription medication to contain CBD. It’s used to treat rare, difficult-to-control forms of epilepsy. (Epidiolex is not currently approved for any of the other conditions listed below.)
CBD is used to help with other various conditions, such as:
- psychosis or mental disorders
- inflammatory bowel disease
THC is used to help with the following:
- muscle spasticity
- low appetite