What Is THC And How Does It Work?


THC, also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, is the active component in cannabis. This chemical is responsible for the psychoactive nature of the drug, and can lead to a euphoric sensation, or even hallucinations in extreme doses. Most people know that THC is the drug present in cannabis, but there is a lot more to know about it than that! Read on to find out more about this common drug.

THC is a cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are any of dozens of chemical compounds present in the cannabis plant which produce effects in the brain. THC is by far the most widely known, but some scientists believe there may be over 100 cannabinoids in existence. The reason most people focus solely on THC is its pleasant effects and medicinal benefits on the brain and body.

THC was first isolated by Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli chemist, in 1964. Mechoulam was studying hashish, a Lebanese breed of cannabis, and discovered that THC was a primary active ingredient. This discovery of THC lead other scientists to study cannabis and discover several other cannabinoids, as well as the receptors in the body that allow them to function.

So, why does the cannabis plant produce cannabinoids such as THC? THC and other cannabinoids are classified as secondary metabolites, which is a term for a chemical produced by a plant or animal that does not take an active role in that organism’s development. While we can not know for sure why cannabis evolved to produce these compounds, scientists have some guesses. The leading theory is that cannabinoids developed to discourage feeding on the plant by predators like herbivorous animals and insects.

So how does THC work? Humans, and many other animals, produce a system of chemicals called endocannabinoids that are responsible for various brain functions. These endocannabinoids interact with various nodes on the brain called cannabinoid receptors. THC hijacks this system, binding to the cannabinoid receptors in order to alter brain chemistry. By pulling the same levers in the neural system as the brain’s own endocannabinoid chemicals, THC causes the euphoria and other effects associated with cannabis.

While it is tempting to imagine that our bodies evolved to process cannabis, it is more likely that cannabis evolved to take advantage of existing brain systems. One example of an endocannabinoid is anandamide. This compound is released after strenuous physical exercise to help mitigate soreness and muscle fatigue. Runners will be familiar with the effects of anandamide; the feeling of a “runner’s high” after a long and difficult run is caused by this compound. THC interacts with the brain in a similar way, producing similar results.

The effects of THC can vary from person to person and from high to high. Many people who ingest THC find that it causes a deep calmness; however, some people find that cannabis causes an increase in anxiety. Often the effect of THC depends on the surroundings. If the user is in surroundings that are comfortable and safe, the effect will often be pleasant and euphoric. In a dangerous or stressful situation, however, THC can cause anxiety and increased heart rate.

THC Trichomes
Photo Credit: @devilslettuceph

THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, is one of several cannabinoids present in cannabis. This compound is able to hijack our brain chemistry by interacting with cannabinoid receptors to modify brain function. While it is different from endocannabinoids naturally produced by the body, the effects can be very similar, such as the similarity between a runner’s high and the high caused by cannabis. Cannabis is usually pleasant, but depending on the user’s brain chemistry and stress levels, can also cause anxiety or panic attacks.