What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive component found in cannabis and is one of over 113 different cannabinoids identified in the plant. It produces profound, mind-altering effects and can be especially intense in Cannabis strains that contain a high THC content.
How does THC feel?
When marijuana is smoked, THC and other plant chemicals enter the bloodstream through the lungs and quickly spread throughout the body, reaching the brain. The effects are typically felt almost immediately, evoking a pleasurable euphoria and a sense of relaxation in many users. Other effects, which can vary greatly among individuals, include heightened sensory perception (such as enhanced color perception), laughter, a distorted sense of time, and an increased appetite.
When marijuana is consumed in the form of food or beverages, the onset of effects is typically delayed, usually occurring within 30 minutes to an hour. This delay is due to the drug needing to pass through the digestive system. Ingesting marijuana results in significantly less THC entering the bloodstream compared to smoking an equivalent amount of the plant. However, due to the delayed effects, individuals may unintentionally consume more THC than intended.
It’s important to note that not everyone has pleasant experiences with marijuana. Instead of relaxation and euphoria, some individuals may experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic. These effects are more common when a person consumes too much marijuana, when the potency of the marijuana is unexpectedly high, or when the individual has little experience with marijuana. In cases where large doses of marijuana are taken, individuals may experience acute psychosis, characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of personal identity. These unpleasant reactions are temporary and differ from persistent psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, which may be associated with marijuana use in vulnerable individuals.
How does THC produce its effects?
The chemical structure of THC closely resembles that of anandamide, a natural chemical found in the brain. This structural similarity enables the body to recognize THC and disrupt normal brain communication.
Endogenous cannabinoids, like anandamide, serve as neurotransmitters within the nervous system. They transmit chemical messages between neurons, affecting brain regions associated with pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, sensory perception, and time perception. Due to its structural similarity, THC can bind to cannabinoid receptors on neurons in these brain areas, activating them and disrupting various cognitive and physical functions, leading to the effects described earlier. The endocannabinoid system, which utilizes these cannabinoid neurotransmitters, is crucial for normal nervous system functioning. Interfering with this system can have profound effects.
THC, by interacting with cannabinoid receptors, triggers the activation of the brain’s reward system, which includes areas responsible for regulating responses to enjoyable and healthy behaviors like eating and sex. Similar to many other drugs that are misused, THC stimulates neurons within the reward system to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, at levels higher than what is typically observed in response to natural rewarding activities. This flood of dopamine effectively teaches the brain to seek out and repeat the behavior that led to its release, contributing to marijuana’s addictive qualities.