Tetrahydrocannabinol(THC) is known to be the main psychoactive component in marijuana. This compound produces psychoactive effects by stimulating the brain. THC is associated not only with the rewarding aspects of cannabis use, but also with various symptoms of mental illness and cognitive impairment. The legalization of marijuana in many countries, such as the United States and Canada, has created opportunities for the industry. This has led to a rapid expansion of the cannabis industry and the THC content has increased to satisfy many consumers.
Given the recent success of the cannabis industry, there is an ongoing debate about whether it has a critical impact on public health or whether its components serve as a therapeutic agent. Therefore, this article discusses THC, its effects, benefits, and harmful risks related to potency and frequency of use.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a psychoactive component of cannabis that is responsible for its euphoric effects. THC is one of 113 cannabinoids identified with the chemical makeup of C₂₁H₃₀O₂ and a molecular weight of 314.464 g/mol. The natural chemical anandamide in the brain is analogous to this compound. It is a neurotransmitter involved in the functions of the immune system and the central and peripheral systems. Studies are also investigating how anandamide plays a role in sleep patterns and pain relief. THC copies anandamide in an attempt to alter routine brain communication. Immediately after consuming cannabis, THC attaches to neurons in the brain to alter the processes.
Over the past few decades, the amount of THC in marijuana has steadily increased; Marijuana today contains three times more THC than 25 years ago. The higher the amount of THC, the stronger the effects on the brain. THC affects essential brain functions, such as cognitive processes, memory, pleasure, focus, movement, coordination and sensation. This prevents us from functioning normally while being elevated. Therefore, driving under the influence of marijuana is strongly discouraged, as THC impairs our brain functions.
THC has the exact chemical makeup compared to its counterpart, CBD. Despite this similarity, cannabidiol (CBD) combats the psychoactive effects of THC. Below is another comparison between the two.
THC VS. CBD
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most abundant cannabinoids in marijuana. They can only be activated when the marijuana undergoes decarboxylation, which converts the initial acids, THCA and CBN, into the desired THC and CBD. The most notable differences between the two substances are their opposite effects. THC induces the psychoactive effects of marijuana, while CBD can be beneficial by inducing drowsiness and reducing the unwanted effects of THC. Both compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. These compounds copy the natural compound anandamide to attach to cannabinoid receptors.
THC Activates Cannabinoid Receptors
In addition to altering cognitive processes, THC prompts our brain cells to release dopamine. It is a hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for reward-motivated behavior and pleasure. THC stimulates dopamine by increasing dopamine concentrations in the terminal regions of the mesolimbic system. Long-term cannabis use introduces dopaminergic developmental effects that are harmful to our bodies. Acute stimulation of the brain with THC increases dopamine, but chronic exposure can weaken the dopaminergic system.
Marijuana users describe their experience as initially relaxing, creating a feeling of bliss. Their eyes widen, which increases the intensity of their vision. Colors appear brighter and more vibrant. They suddenly feel everything at once with their heightened sensations. This joke turns into paranoia and panic.
These are just some of the side effects associated with THC exposure. The first effects wear off after a few hours, but the THC remains in the body. THC stays in the body for between twenty hours and ten days. How long the medicine stays in your system, of course, depends on how strongly what you take. Below is a list of the short-term effects associated with marijuana and high THC levels.
- Loss of coordination
- Increased heart rate
- Anxiety, Panic Attacks
Studies on the long-term effects of cannabis are limited as it is illegal in most countries, as the THC in marijuana has always been associated with drug addiction. But compared to other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and alcohol, cannabis addiction develops in fewer users, namely only 9%. Despite this discovery, marijuana is classified as a gateway drug because of its association with dopamine. This classification means that cannabis use increases the likelihood of discovering other, more dangerous drugs. Below is the list of the long-term effects of THC in cannabis.
- Acute psychosis in schizophrenia spectrum disorders
- Neuropsychological decline
- Symptoms of mania
Health Benefits Of THC
Despite the many risks associated with marijuana, studies on its benefits are still ongoing.
Research has shown that THC increases the appetite of patients with eating disorders. There is ample evidence that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in our appetite and eating behavior. Research shows that anandamide is inactive in the brain in patients with anorexia and bulimia. THC stimulates the endocannabinoid system to signal rewarding events such as food and appetite restrictions.
Marijuana is also commonly used as a pain reliever for pain relief. The cannabinoids THC and CBD help peripheral nerves to sense and stop pain sensations. In addition, there is an FDA-approved synthetic drug with a high THC content called Marinol. It is marketed as a safe alternative to medical marijuana and highlights the medicinal properties of cannabis.
Marinol helps relieve the side effects of cancer drugs, such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and pain. It is legal in many countries and only requires a doctor’s prescription.
Most people prefer to take Marinol to avoid smoking marijuana and still enjoy its benefits. The only downside to this designer drug is that no one can take it. You can only use it if other drugs that cause cancer side effects don’t work. Therefore, you can only use Marinol as a last resort. It is also expensive compared to other drugs with similar uses.
Harmful Effects Of THC
The effects of THC on dopamine levels depend on its potency. Studies have shown that the potency of THC in marijuana increased from about 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014. Another study confirmed that cannabis-induced THC potency increased to 17.1%. The legalization of cannabis has also created opportunities for the production of a more potent variant, THC oil. THC oils are significantly more potent, reaching up to 80% THC and above. Low doses of THC produce an increase in dopamine, which contributes to the state of euphoria. High potency weed involves higher levels of THC, which reduces the synthesis of dopamine. Long-term use of marijuana also causes a huge effect on our dopamine. Repeated doses of THC result in behavioral and neurochemical tolerance associated with drug addiction.
Typical marijuana addicts use it an average of 10 times a day. Long-term use would affect them by having constant nausea and increased symptoms of psychosis.
The harmful effects of large doses of marijuana differ because it depends on a person’s tolerance. There is a high probability that young marijuana users will suffer because their brains are still developing. This lack of development means that their cognition is heavily influenced by high concentrations of THC. Therefore, people should inform themselves about the risks that could affect them for the rest of their lives. Remember the golden rule: “start low and go slow” and you’ll be fine.