THC - Tetrahydrocannabinol Explained
Cannabis contains dozens of cannabinoids, which are the chemical compounds in the plant that affects our bodies in different ways. Some cannabinoids get us high, some have health benefits, and most are poorly understood compounds that need to be researched further.
In this series, we will take a look at a few of the most well-researched cannabinoids that are found in cannabis.
One of the most well-known cannabinoids is tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. While many of us think THC is found in cannabis, cannabis actually contains tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A). THC-A becomes THC during the process of decarboxylation, which happens when you heat it up. That is why you’ll get THC when you heat cannabis at a high temperature - whether it’s through smoking, vaping, creating a tincture, or cooking edibles.
What are the reported benefits of THC?
THC is best known for making you high - but it also has a range of potential health benefits. Reportedly, THC could treat:
- low appetite
- nausea and vomiting
Let’s look at the science behind the benefits of THC.
What the research says about the benefits of THC
Anecdotally, high-THC seems to have a lot of health benefits - but does the science back it up?
THC notably has an effect on our sleep cycle. A 2017 review of studies on THC and sleep notes that there are mixed results on THC and sleep. Some studies concluded that THC decreases sleep quality, while others showed that it soothed insomnia. The review noted that some studies showed, in the long-term, THC might make your sleep patterns worse.
Many people have claimed that cannabis stops them from dreaming - and there is some science behind this claim. THC does reduce the amount of time we spend in REM sleep, which is the stage of the sleep cycle where we dream. This could potentially help PTSD patients get a good nights’ rest if they are often plagued with nightmares.
Cannabis often gives people the ‘munchies’ - an uncontrollable urge to snack. While this is an irritating side-effect for some people, its appetite-stimulating abilities can help a lot of people. Marinol, a synthetic version of THC, is prescribed for HIV/AIDS patients who have a low appetite. Since HIV decreases one’s appetite, it can lead to malnourishment, which is why Marinol is so helpful. Marinol is also known as dronabinol.
Connected to its ability to increase appetite, THC also reduces nausea and vomiting. Back in 1985, synthetic versions of THC were approved to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) in cancer patients. Since then, over 30 studies have shown that synthetic THC provides relief for CINV.
In the US, medical cannabis is most commonly prescribed for chronic pain - in fact, 62% of medical cannabis users use it to treat pain. Much of this analgesic effect is attributed to THC - and indeed, a lot of research suggests that THC reduce pain. Dronabinol has been shown to reduce pain, which is another reason why it can be helpful for HIV/AIDS patients.
THC might also reduce anxiety. However, according to research, it can produce the opposite effect: marijuana does make some people paranoid. Researchers aren’t yet sure why it can cause such extreme opposite effects.
While THC is mainly known for being intoxicating, it can do so much more than just get you high. In fact, research shows that it has a number of health-supporting benefits that shouldn’t be ignored. Hopefully, future research will help us better understand how THC can improve - and even save - lives.
- Babson KA, et al. (2017). Cannabis, cannabinoids, and sleep: A review of the literature [Abstract]. DOI: 10.1007/s11920-017-0775-9
- Boehnke, KA et al. (2019). Qualifying Conditions Of Medical Cannabis License Holders In The United States. DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.2018.05266
- Crippa JA, et al. (2009). Cannabis and anxiety: A critical review of the evidence [Abstract]. DOI: 10.1002/hup.1048/full
- Elsohly, MA. et al. (2001). Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabivarin as a Marker for the Ingestion of Marijuana versus Marinol®: Results of a Clinical Study. DOI: 10.1093/jat/25.7.565
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- Issa, MA. et al. (2014). The Subjective Psychoactive Effects Of Oral Dronabinol Studied In A Randomized, Controlled Crossover Clinical Trial For Pain. DOI: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000022
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- Tramèr, M.R., et al. (2001). Cannabinoids for control of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: quantitative systematic review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC34325/pdf/16.pdf