What Is THC And How Does It Affect Your Body?

what is THC

THC And CBD - Uses, Side-effects And Laws

So what is THC? Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive substance in cannabis. It is touted as a magic bullet that alleviates anxiety, pain, inflammation, nausea, vomiting, and even killing cancer cells. 

The history of cannabis in America is long and complicated, to say the least. The consumption, possession, and distribution of marijuana are still illegal under federal law


However, every state has enacted laws dictating the use of marijuana, with states that have legalized the recreational and/or medical use of cannabis outnumbering those in which the opposite is true.

Retail store shelves are filling up with legal THC products like edibles, oils, beverages, capsules, beauty products, and dog treats. Yet, while it may feel like THC use has been effectively normalized, most people still don’t know much about the cannabinoid.

Below is everything you need to know about THC, including how it affects your body, its benefits, legality, and possible side effects. We will also compare THC vs CBD.

What Is THC?

The cannabis plant (hemp and marijuana) produces well over 400 chemical substances, of which more than 100 are cannabinoids. 

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most commonly known cannabinoid. It is the psychoactive chemical compound that produces the euphoric high of cannabis.

THC produces its effects by attaching to the cannabinoid receptors in our endocannabinoid system (ECS). 


The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that THC works by stimulating the neurons in our brain’s reward system to release the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a hormone that plays a significant role in our mood, pleasure, and motivation.

By stimulating the release of dopamine at higher levels than usual, THC gives its users feelings of euphoria and relaxation.

This cannabinoid can be consumed in many ways like smoking, transdermal patches, vaping, tinctures, and topicals. Most people use marijuana products for pleasure and personal enjoyment. 

However, a growing number of studies show that THC can be helpful with specific conditions and health problems.

What Is CBD?

Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is the second most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis plants after THC. 

Preliminary studies show that CBD may be a potent, relatively non-toxic alternative for many prescription medications

It may offer many therapeutic effects like alleviating anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and more. 

However, unlike THC, CBD is non-intoxicating and does not produce a euphoric high.

Key Differences Of THC vs CBD

CBD and THC can be derived from the same hemp and marijuana plants. 

Though they may offer relatively similar health benefits, there are several important differences between the two cannabinoids. 

THC’s chemical structure allows it to alter our normal brain communication, giving you the feelings of euphoria and the so-called high. 

Comparably, CBD does not cause euphoria. Instead, experts believe that it works with specific elements in the body, causing feelings of well-being. 

The Chemical Structure of THC vs CBD

The chemical formula of THC is exactly similar to that of CBD in that they both contain 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms (C21H30O2). 

However, there is a slight difference in the way these atoms are arranged, which accounts for the different ways the two cannabinoids interact with the body. 

The chemical structure of THC and CBD is similar to our body’s endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids).

Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters made by the body. 

The chemical formula of THC is exactly similar to that of CBD in that they both contain 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms (C21H30O2). 

They are similar to the cannabinoids produced by the plant cannabis sativa, and they act in the brain as chemical messengers, relaying signals between nerve cells

Endocannabinoids play an important role in regulating and controlling many vital bodily functions like sleep, mood, inflammation, immune response, and pain sensation

THC And The CB1 / CB2 Receptors

The similarity in structure with our endocannabinoids allows THC to bind with the CB2 and CB1 receptors

CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and central nervous system and CB2 receptors are primarily found in the immune system

THC binds to the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) with a high affinity.

Comparably, CBD seems to have a low affinity for the two receptors, hence the different effects offered.

The Psychoactive Properties of THC vs CBD

Contrary to popular belief, CBD is also a psychoactive cannabinoid, only not in the same way as THC. 

Because of the difference in their chemical structures, CBD and THC influence different receptors in the brain. 

THC has been demonstrated to have a high affinity for the CB1 receptors in the brain, producing a ‘high’ and euphoric feeling. 

On the other hand, CBD does not attach to the CB1 receptors in the same way as THC. Hence, it is not intoxicating, and it won’t produce a high or impair function.

Instead, it has been found to help with various medical and psychiatric conditions like seizures, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Research has found that when CBD and THC are consumed together, CBD binds to the CB1 receptors and helps antagonize some of the unwanted psychological effects of THC, such as sedation. 

The Source of THC vs CBD

THC and CBD can be sourced from the two varieties of cannabis plants (hemp plants and marijuana plants). 

However, THC is often derived from marijuana plants because they have a higher concentration of THC. 

On the other hand, Hemp produces high levels of CBD and 0.3% or less THC. CBD is often extracted from hemp plants to obtain a pure form with minimal levels of THC. 

CBD obtained from marijuana plants may have high levels of THC, which may not be suitable for those looking to avoid THC consumption.

The Legality of THC

Industrial hemp was officially legalized at a federal level in 2018 by the Agriculture Improvement Act or the 2018 Farm Bill

This move legalized hemp-based products, including CBD oil that contains 0.3 percent or less THC by dry weight.

But it’s important to note that although the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) considers CBD a schedule 1 drug.

THC Laws In The United States

All cannabis products with more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight are still considered illegal by the federal government

However, cannabis laws are continuously changing in the United States, with an increasing number of states adopting more liberal policies. 

As of February 2022, 37 states plus Washington, D.C., have legalized medical cannabis.

Recreational use of marijuana for adults of legal age has been legalized in 18 states plus Washington, D.C.

Note that possession of cannabis-based products in a country where they are still considered illegal or failing to have a medical marijuana card for medical marijuana products in states where they are allowed could lead to severe legal penalties. 

Hence, it’s critical to familiarize yourself with your state laws before buying products containing CBD or THC.

8 Potential Medical Benefits of THC

Studies into the possible medical benefits of CBD and THC are still ongoing. However, there is evidence from earlier research that the two cannabinoids may offer similar effects

Hence, some people may prefer CBD since it does not cause the psychoactive effects associated with THC. 

THC may be helpful for the following conditions: 

  1. Insomnia 
  2. Nausea caused by cancer treatment
  3. Low appetite 
  4. Tremors 
  5. Anxiety
  6. Glaucoma
  7. Pain resulting from conditions like migraines, arthritis, and fibromyalgia 
  8. Muscle spasticity 

THC seems to offer more potent health benefits when used together with CBD, thanks to the entourage effect

A good example is Sativex or nabiximols, an herbal preparation containing 1:1 THC and CBD for alleviating;

  • Neuropathic pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Spasticity
  • Symptoms of MS (multiple sclerosis). 

Although it is not currently approved in the U.S., Sativex is approved for use in 27 other countries, including France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. 

Can FDA Approved Drugs Contain THC?

The FDA has approved some drug products containing CBD and/or THC for the treatment of different conditions. 

  • Marinol and Syndros are forms of dronabinol, a manmade form of THC, which are approved for treating nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients
  • Cesamet is a medication that contains nabilone, a synthetic form of cannabis. It is used in the treatment of severe nausea, weight loss, and appetite problems caused by cancer drug treatment.

Potential Side Effects of THC

Some clinical trials and anecdotal evidence show that, like CBD, THC is generally safe for consumption by healthy adults. 

However, while CBD is well tolerated by the body even in large doses, THC can cause the following adverse effects

  1. Anxiety 
  2. Dry mouth 
  3. Short-term memory loss 
  4. Panic attacks
  5. Slow reaction times
  6. Red eyes
  7. Dizziness and cognitive impairment
  8. Increased heart rate 
  9. Impaired coordination 

It’s important to note that these negative effects are not fatal.

However, high doses of THC have been found to cause long-term negative psychiatric effects, especially in young people (adolescents) with cases of chronic cannabis use. 

It’s still unclear whether chronic marijuana use can cause serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia

THC And Drug Testing

Cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, are highly lipophilic, which means they are stored in body fat tissues for significant periods of time. 

Hence, they have a long elimination half-life and can be detected by a drug test for many days or even weeks after consumption.

Most standard drug tests are made to look for delta-9 THC molecules in your system- not CBD. 

However, please keep in mind that some CBD-sensitive drug tests can be used to look for molecules related to CBD. 

Hemp Based CBD Products And Testing

THC can also show up on a drug test even when you’re using hemp-derived CBD products. That’s because full-spectrum CBD products contain the legal amount of THC (0.3% or less). 

If you want to avoid the risk of testing positive for THC, experts recommend using broad-spectrum CBD or CBD isolate, both of which contain zero THC traces. 

THC Ingestion Methods

THC can be consumed in similar ways as CBD. Perhaps the most popular method of consuming THC is smoking marijuana in rolled joints, blunts, or water pipes

To avoid inhaling the harsh marijuana smoke, some people also use vaporizers, which extract the active ingredient (THC) from the dried cannabis flower, allowing you to inhale it in the form of vapor. 

Below are other THC ingestion methods: 

  • Mixing marijuana in food to make edibles like cookies, chocolates, gummies, and brownies
  • Brewing marijuana in tea and other beverages
  • Sprays and oils 

Why not give this Marijuana Drink Recipe A Go?

What Is THC - The Bottom Line

What is THC? Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main cannabinoid that occurs naturally in the two varieties of cannabis plants (hemp and marijuana). 

Unlike CBD oil, THC has a very high binding affinity with the CB1 and CB2 receptors located in the brain.

This interaction causes the ‘high’ that people report and other psychoactive effects like changes in mood, consciousness, motor control, impaired body movement, and altered time perception.

Evidence from multiple studies shows that THC can help in treating numerous medical conditions, such as relaxing muscles in people with M.S. and alleviating nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in cancer treatment.