What is THC? Experts Weigh in on its Benefits and Effects

The interest around cannabis legalization has been growing in the U.S., and it’s not just because of politicians who admit to smoking cannabis, but also due to the medical benefits linked to cannabis use.  These include treatment success in epilepsy, chronic pain, insomnia and anxiety to name a few. Recognizing the medicinal value of THC brings up many questions about what this chemical compound is, how it works in our bodies, and why its effects are so controversial among individuals who have never tried it.

What is THC?

“THC is an abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol.” After referencing multiple articles found in PubMed Health, Dr. Darryl Inaba, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Hawaii, explains that THC is one of more than 100 + cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis. “Cannabinoids are chemicals unique to the cannabis plant,” he writes.

For those who may not know, Dr. Inaba also states that cannabinoids and other chemical compounds in cannabis interact with our body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoid system, which promotes balance. The interaction between our bodies and cannabinoids such as THC forms a feedback loop in which the cannabinoids regulate multiple organ systems and modulate emotions including bliss.

It has been noted that CB1 cannabinoid receptors can be found throughout the brain, including locations that control our memory, anxiety and motor skills.  When we ingest THC, as in a tincture for example, it interacts with these cannabinoid receptors to produce a variety of effects including feeling “high,” experiencing mild euphoria, and relieving stress.  In addition, it appears that cannabinoids help generate new connections in the brain as well as strengthen old ones.

However, critics suggest that using cannabis is only a temporary fix for mental issues. Critics declare once people stop using cannabis, their mood may plummet again, as they do not have enough binding sites for their natural endocannabinoids [5 ].  In response, proponents have contended that clinical studies on cannabis use were not being conducted according to scientific standards, and therefore they lack reliable results.

What Effects Does THC Have?

When THC enters our bodies, some of it is broken down into other compounds which are also psychoactive. These include 11-hydroxy-THC and cannabinol aka CBN, which may cause drowsiness (This cannabinoid is known for its benefits for sleep). If you inhale cannabis, note an article on how to vape.

Additionally, some cannabinoids create an increased appetite after consuming cannabis containing THC, which makes it an excellent for appetite stimulation.  However, this appetite increase may depend on a person’s state of mind before inhaling.  A number of researchers have found that some THC strains manipulate the brain’s olfactory system which may reduce or even stop a person’s sense of hunger.

Epilepsy treatment is another benefit linked to cannabis. The National Organization for the Reform of cannabis Laws (NORML) cited a study by Drs. Whalley and Duncan which suggests cannabis extracts may be an effective treatment for individuals who suffer from epilepsy. According to the doctors, cannabidiol (CBD) is responsible for the anti-seizure activity found in cannabis products. Since CBD does not have psychoactive effects, it may promote therapeutic effects without causing “highs”.

Other Applications of THC

According to NORML, other common uses for THC include easing chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.  Many cancer patients are using THC products to help cope with chemotherapy side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

Furthermore, NORML suggests people who work out regularly may use cannabis products before they suffer injuries which could cause pain.

In addition, a number of cannabis proponents cite evidence that cannabis products may prevent the development of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.  However, these suggestions have not been proven by scientific research. In fact, it is important to note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has not approved any form of cannabis for the treatment or prevention of any disease.

The future use of THC, according to Dr. Robert Melamede, former professor at the University of Colorado, is that THC will eventually be used as a pharmaceutical drug for many ailments in humans depending on how diseases and their symptoms react to cannabinoids.  Dr. Melamede suggests that even if a child is exposed to THC in the womb, he or she will not necessarily suffer adverse effects. He claims that the majority of cannabinoids are stored “in fat cells” and therefore, they can cross the placental barrier during pregnancy. The doctor further explains that pregnant women naturally produce cannabinoids in their own body which suggests that expectant mothers actually need this type of compound to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Dr. Melamede notes how our immune systems’ cannabinoid receptors are able to detect pathogens in order for us to take appropriate action against them by producing an antigen response. This enables our bodies to defend itself when it comes under attack from micro-organisms such as bacteria, yeast, parasites, and fungi.

However, other researchers have proclaimed that THC may be the cause of miscarriages and early labor. According to Dr. Gillinder Bedi, a researcher at Yale University School of Medicine, cannabis use was linked with an increased risk for preterm birth and lower-birth weight babies.

Effects of THC on Behavior

Some people have suggested that cannabis products can alleviate feelings of anxiety. Some studies show that chronic use of THC may reduce serotonin levels which can make it more difficult for depressed individuals to find relief. In fact, THC has been known in some cases to induce mania.

There is no denying that THC offers a number of benefits to those suffering from various conditions. However, there are still many issues which need to be resolved before THC will be widely accepted as an alternative treatment for some illnesses.

Results of recent studies, according to Dr. Yasmin Hurd at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, NY, explains that chronic users may experience negative effects on their working memory which is responsible for storing information for short periods of time.  Additionally, individuals who use high doses of THC over prolonged periods of time, have been known to develop a tolerance. In fact, they may even suffer from mild withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the plant medicine.

Chronic users may experience elevated heart rates as high as 50% over their baseline levels. Other common effects include dry mouth, increased appetite, red eyes, and slowed reaction times. If one becomes too sedated after taking THC edibles, he or she may decide to take a nap or go to bed.  Others use it as an alternative form of pain relief. Some people who suffer from migraine headaches have reported that smoking cannabis products which contain high levels of THC can help reduce their frequency.


To put things simply, the medicinal benefits of THC may work better when used in conjunction with other cannabinoids (like CBD) and terpenes. This is the “entourage effect”.   Yet, the same can be said about many treatment plans used by doctors who recommend a balanced diet rich in vitamins and nutrients along with exercise instead of prescribing pharmaceuticals for various illnesses.

In closing, cannabis users should keep in mind that they need to seek medical advice from trained professionals when planning on taking cannabinoids for ailments that require cannabis therapy.  It’s important to keep your physician in the loop when using this remarkable plant, and in particular, THC.

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