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Blackboard with the chemical formula of THC

What is THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC is the main ingredient in cannabis or marijuana. Though there are a wide variety of compounds in cannabis, it is the most critical for the psychoactive effects it induces in users. In other words, it’s what makes you high.

So what is THC? It and many other ingredients in cannabis are known as “cannabinoids.” These are chemical compounds that exist within cannabis plants. The THC molecule was first isolated in 1964 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli professor. Upon studying cannabis seized by Israeli police, Dr. Mechoulam found the chemical compound that we know today as THC.

What Are The Effects of THC?

Medical marijuana background with cannabis leaves and buds sorrounding the word THC hand written on dark board

Isolating the THC molecule allowed for further insight into this chemical compound and just how it affects users. This was not done in an instant, however. Over two decades later in 1988, Dr. Allyn Howlett, professor at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, found that the compound affected users by tapping into different areas of the brain responsible for various functions. For instance, the THC in cannabis would affect memory by tapping into the hippocampus, affect thinking by tapping into the frontal cortex and affect movement by tapping into the cerebellum. These areas are known as “cannabinoid receptors.”

So how are these areas, and the human body as a whole, so susceptible to the effects of this compound? It’s mainly a matter of it having the right structure to properly penetrate the body and induce the psychoactive effects like a bodily high and euphoria.

How To Consume THC

Medical marijuana containers against board with THC formula

Do you ever wonder why you only hear about marijuana being consumed through means such as smoking, edibles such as cookies and vaporizing? It’s because simply ingesting raw marijuana leaves isn’t going to make you high, even though all the necessary chemical compounds are within it. It needs to be heated in some manner in order to have the intended effects. What happens to cannabis leaves when they’re heated is known as “decarboxylation.” Heating the plant removes an acid known as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THCa. This acid keeps the compound from properly responding with our bodies and thus needs to be removed. The chemical reaction of burning allows for the ever-important chemical reaction that takes place when you ingest it.

Much of the scientific interest in tetrahydrocannabinol has to do with its medical benefits. Marijuana has been shown to help alleviate a wide variety of medical conditions and this specific compound is considered to be the primary reason why. It has been shown to help PTSD through reducing the stress and trauma of painful memories. It has been shown to help pain relief, as one’s brain does not register pain as severely. It also serves as an effective sleep aid, among other benefits.

Pharmaceutical companies have an understanding of the benefits of THC and cannabis. As cannabis’ legal status (medicinal and recreational) is inconsistent in the United States and around the world, not everyone who would benefit from its positive effects has access to it. As further research is done into the effects of THC on the body and various conditions, we can become even closer to harnessing the full medical potential of cannabis.

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