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What is THC? [An In-Depth Guide for Everyone]

What is THC? [An In-Depth Guide for Everyone]

By
– June 17, 2022

(Updated on November 15, 2022)

We’re sure you have at least some awareness of THC as it’s the thing that gives marijuana its notable zing. Still, though, if you’re intent on being a confident and savvy cannabis user — learning more about this compund will serve you well. Especially since you’re introducing this cannabinoid into your body.

A well-grounded understanding of THC can help ensure you’re:
  • A smarter, more assured shopper and consumer
  • Getting more value for your money
  • Finding the best THC-infused products for you
  • Maximizing the effectiveness of your THC products
  • Identifying optimal ways to include THC into your life
  • Aware of how to safely use THC alongside standard medical treatment plans

That’s a lot of THC territory to cover, so let’s get this show on the road!

Doctors Break Down the Differences Between CBD and THC - 35,765 views Oct, 30, 2019 Medical doctor, Dr. Elaine Chin and naturopathic doctor Dr. Elizabeth Goldspink open up the medical conversations surrounding hemp and marijuana on this Cityline, longest running daytime show for women in North America, with Host Tracy Moore.

What is THC Anyway?

THC is shorthand for tetrahydrocannabinol. Tetrahydrocannabinol is just one of 140+ cannabinoids in cannabis. Cannabinoids, are a special kind of phytocompound found in cannabis plants, engage with your endocannabinoid system to instigate numerous mental and physical responses in your body.

THC vs CBD

For a better understanding of THC, you have to know a little about CBD (cannabidiol). CBD is another much-discussed cannabinoid — partly because it’s awesome, partly because it’s legal and easy to get your hands on.

Here’s a quick summary of key ways THC and CBD compare.

Both have great potential to support and improve health and wellness in many ways. These cannabinoids have been used recreationally and medicinally for hundreds of generations. (Archaeological proof shows that hemp and marijuana plants — two varieties of cannabis — have been intentionally bred and farmed for more than 10,000 years.)

The main — or most notable — difference between these cannabinoids is that THC’s a mind-altering substance, whereas CBD isn’t. THC is reputed for its psychoactive effect, aka “high.” Some people experience anxiety or paranoia, too. CBD doesn’t contain any chemical attributes that can cause a psychoactive response so it can’t intoxicate you. CBD’s claim to fame is its ability to soothe and destress.

THC in CBD Oil

Getting your THC from marijuana is an option. But many folks get their THC spike in the CBD oil products they use. So, we have to talk about THC in CBD oil products.

CBD comes in three types — two of which contain at least trace amounts of THC. If you’re interested in THC, it’s handy to know one from the other.

Types of CBD: Full-Spectrum, Broad-Spectrum & Isolate

Keeping it simple, here’s a high-level overview of the different CBD extract types:

  1. Full-spectrum CBD has CBD, THC, other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and additional phytochemicals from the source plant. THC content may surpass the federally-permitted 0.3%.
  2. Broad-spectrum CBD is full-spectrum CBD minus the THC. Minute levels of THC may remain, but will be under the 0.3% threshold.
  3. CBD isolate has everything but the cannabidiol stripped out. No THC whatsoever.

Each type has its strengths and weaknesses. No one type is right for everybody or all the time.

Full- and broad-spectrum CBD up your odds of getting an entourage effect, the synergistic response your body may have due to the cocktail of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other plant compounds. But, that trace quantity of THC may spark a small euphoric sensation, positive drug test, etc.

Isolate offers none of THC’s potential but also has none of its possible drawbacks.

THC Formulations & Methods of Administration

Producers create a never-ending portfolio of THC-inclusive products. If that’s not enough, you can DIY your own with full- or broad-spectrum CBD drops or THC tinctures.

THC-Containing Products Galore

There’s no shortage of products containing THC. You have marijuana-derived as well as hemp CBD products — like the ones below — to satisfy and delight you.

  • Gummies and candies
  • Tinctures
  • Softgels and capsules
  • Edibles and drinkables
  • Lotions, ointments, creams, and balms
  • Patches
  • Flowers
  • Bath bombs and salts
  • Beauty care and cosmetics

Ways to Take THC

How you consume your THC depends on the product you chose. There are preparations that can be:

  • Taken sublingually (under the tongue)
  • Orally ingested
  • Applied topically
  • Administered transdermally
  • Inhaled

Each formulation and consumption method has its virtues. For example: Softgels are slower acting but longer lasting whereas sublingual CBD oil tinctures are faster acting but shorter lived.

THC Molecule Overlay on Marijuana Flower

THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol Molecule illustration on Marijuana Plant

How THC Works in Your Body

Your body strives towards homeostasis, a state of optimal balance when all systems and functions are in peak working order. Cannabinoids — through your endocannabinoid system (ECS) — contribute to homeostasis.(1,2)

Almost all animals have an ECS, a complex system of receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. This network helps control or regulate many bodily systems and functions, from sleep to metabolism and mood to pain management.

THC binds with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS, in a way mimics how endocannabinoids bond with the receptors. It’s thought that source of THC’s powerful effects are twofold:

  1. These receptors are mostly in the brain.
  2. THC latches onto both kinds of receptors.

This is a tour de force that ideally produces the beneficial wellness outcomes THC users are pursuing.

Uses & Potential Benefits of THC

THC has been in the natural care kit for thousands of years, used for everything from easing labor pains to coping with cancer to addressing constipation. Today, THC is used to help with conditions like:(2,3,4)

  • Anxiety
  • Glaucoma
  • Insomnia
  • Low appetite
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Weight loss

Cannabis and cannabinoids are so full of promise that you can expect a steady flow of new research to continue. As the medical and scientific communities reveal more about THC’s capabilities and efficacy, it’s likely that therapies (and laws and cultural norms) will evolve and advance.

Tips for How To Use THC

How you use THC-containing products is up to you. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. And your needs and preferences may evolve over time.

Bearing that in mind, here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Establish goals. What do you want to accomplish by consuming THC? Use your answers to set reasonable expectations, steer your research in appropriate directions, and come up with a THC regimen that suits you.
  • Evaluate your situation. Assess your health profile and lifestyle. Connect with your doctor for guidance and advice, especially if you have and special medical considerations.
  • Do your due diligence. Learn about available products and how they correlate to your wellness needs. Read product packaging, labels, and certificates of analysis to validate ingredients, purity, potency, and so on.
  • Choose sensible THC products. Based on your research, opt for THC products that align with your overarching goals and personal situation. Don’t be surprised in finding the right products takes some trial and error.
  • Begin conservatively. Start “low and slow” as they say. You can adapt the amount and frequency of THC you’re consuming as you gain an understanding of your body’s response to the cannabinoid.
  • Create a personalized THC routine. Eventually, you’ll get a good sense of what does and doesn’t work for you in terms of formulation, administration method, dosing, serving size, frequency, timing, etc. From here you can design a THC protocol that’s 100% right-sized to your needs.
  • Keep tabs on your results. Record the products you’re using, the time and amount consumed, and how you felt before and after. This can expose valuable insights — like what’s most effective for you — help your stay focused on your to-date progress.

Is THC Safe?

There’s no one, simple answer to this question. So, let’s tease it apart a bit.
First, though, remember that each person unique and every product is different. No single answer can encapsulate all scenarios, so what’s laid out below is generalized.

The Cannabis Plant

Safety starts with the base. For THC products in the US, this generally means marijuana or hemp from the cannabis sativa species.

Much of the THC in circulation is contained in CBD oil products. Many of these items use hemp seed oil as a carrier. According to the FDA, hemp is both very nutritious and Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).(5)

Marijuana (the plant) hasn’t been evaluated as a food like hemp has been. So, what we’re left to examine for safety cues are scientific data, historical records, and anecdotal reports from users. But, most sources equate marijuana to THC (and vice versa) — so we’ll pick up the THC safety question in the next section.

Of course, almost everyone agrees that more research is needed to conclusively say the various cultivars of cannabis are safe.

THC Itself

Let’s talk specifically about THC, the cannabinoid.
The existing (and ever-growing!) body of knowledge indicates that marijuana:

  1. Should be relatively safe when consumed responsibly by healthy adults
  2. Probably has fewer side effects than alcohol and many pharmaceutical drugs(6,7)

Risks of THC

On the topic of side effects, common ones may include: (3,8,9,10)

Potential Short-Term Side Effects
These typically go away pretty soon after stopping THC use.

  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Memory impairment
  • Loss of coordination
  • Altered sense of time
  • Mood changes
  • Trouble thinking or solving problems
  • Appetite changes
  • High blood pressure
  • Impaired judgment and reaction time (DON’T DRIVE!)

Possible Long-Term Side Effects
THC use is associated with negative health conditions and outcomes such as:

  • Impaired intellectual development, memory, learning, attention, decision making, coordination, emotions, and reaction time
  • Respiratory issues including lung tissue damage (from inhaled marijuana)
  • Cardiovascular health problems like stroke and heart disease
  • Increased risk of mental health conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression and anxiety
  • Use disorder and addiction
  • Accidental poisoning (i.e., in kids and pets)

THC can also interfere with some medications and supplements and may be a bad idea for those with certain medical conditions. People who’re pregnant or nursing or children (under 18 years old) should stay away from THC unless approved by a qualified physician. The takeaway here — consult with your doctor to make sure it’s okay for you to give THC a shot.

Legalized THC products are likely safer than street marijuana. This is because legal marijuana is subject to stringent lab testing, which will ensure there are harmful toxins (e.g., pesticides) laced in.

As with anything, there’s a chance of adverse reactions associated with using THC. You’ll need to weigh the pros vs the cons to see which way the scale tips for you.

The Other Stuff In There

Your THC-infused goods aren’t 100% THC — there are other ingredients and maybe unintended contaminants. Each ingredient features its own safety profile. Dubiously-sourced ingredients can have unhealthful chemicals, heavy metals, etc. in them. Point being, you must pay attention to more than just the THC when considering how safe a product is.

Origins Matter

You know the concept of garbage in, garbage out? It holds true for cannabis products in a big way.

Generally speaking, products with fewer and more natural ingredients tend to be safer. So, look for products that:

  • Are made from organic, American hemp or marijuana
  • Use extracts made from a cleaner process, like CO2 extraction
  • Don’t include a lot of artificial fillers, binders, preservatives, etc.
  • Come from a facility that follows current good manufacturing processes (CGMP)
  • Are offered by a reputable seller
  • Have proven purity and potency based on testing by an independent third-party lab

Is THC Legal?

Marijuana is currently illegal at the federal level. It’s classified as a Schedule I drug and is tightly regulated as a controlled substance.

There’s a bill in Congress right now (April 2022) that seeks to legalize marijuana at the national level. If popular sentiment is any indicator — most Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana to some degree — the legislation will go through. This is definitely something to keep your eyes on!

Meanwhile, many states permit some form of medical and/or recreational marijuana use. And each election cycle sees new states adding themselves to the ranks of MJ-friendly jurisdictions.

THC in CBD oil has been federally legal since 2018, thanks to that year’s Farm Bill. This law says that hemp-derived CBD is lawful so long as it has no more than 0.3% THC by weight.

THC & the FDA

The only FDA-approved form of THC is dronabinol (aka Marinol and Syndros). This drug is made with a synthesized (artificial) THC that retains all the “good” stuff and none of the “undesirable” properties of nature made THC. This med is given to cancer or AIDS patients, primarily to ease nausea and improve appetite.(10)

The Drug Test Question

This is bound to come up sooner or later. You can fail a drug test if the detectable amount of THC in your body exceeds the upper parameter of the drug screening you’re doing.

It’s impossible to say how long THC hangs out in your body. It hinges on multiple factors: frequency of use, amount taken, formulation, your metabolism, etc. Smoked or vaped THC exits the system faster than THC you scarfed down in a magic brownie.

The kind of drug test being administered is also key. For example, THC is only detectable via blood tests for about a week, but a hair sample can hold evidence of THC for three months.(4)

Overall, THC may be detectable for 1 to 90 days.

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Shopping for THC Products

Savvy shoppers are rewarded with better products and deals. It takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of doing your research — rounding up the best of the best will be a breeze.

Here are some helpful pointers to guide your explorations:

Signs of High-Caliber THC Products

  • They only include pure, high-quality ingredients.
  • Labeling is comprehensive, accurate, and understandable.
  • It’s easy to find the certificates of analysis and verify what’s on the labels/packaging.
  • The producer and retailer are not only respected in their industry, there’s ample social proof from customers (and partners).

Where to Buy THC

Your options for purchasing THC-infused products depends on where you are and what kind of product you’re after.

Full spectrum CBD goods derived from hemp are readily available online, in many brick-and-mortar health stores, vitamin shops, spas, natural grocers, specialty boutiques, and dispensaries, and even at some farmers markets.

Marijuana-derived THC and high-THC (i.e., THC content exceeds 0.3%) items can only be purchased in person at regulated dispensaries.

Legalities

Hemp-derived CBD with less than 0.3% THC can be shipped nationwide because it’s federally legal. This makes online shopping a terrific option.

But, local laws and regulations vary. This means that, even though sellers are cleared for interstate commerce, it may not be legal for you to have or consume CBD in your area. It’s always recommended to double check the laws where you live to see what’s allowed.

The same goes for other kinds of THC products. Each state seems to have a unique allowance for recreational and medical marijuana and high-THC CBD products (including ones derived from hemp).

Shopping Experience

Opt for stores that offer a broad selection of high-quality products, accessible and sufficient product info, and well-informed staff. Check out the store’s services and policies to see if it meets your needs.

Shopping locally is a great way to establish a personal connection with the retailer, handle products before buying, and support a community business. And, like we said, this is your only choice for some THC products.

If you’re after federally-legal THC-containing CBD products, though, don’t discount the unbeatable value and convenience of shopping online.

  • You’ll always have access to a greater variety of products.
  • Product and retailer information is easier to get.
  • Compared to brick-and-mortars, products are often cheaper or have better deals.
  • You can shop from anywhere. At any time. Wearing whatever you want!
  • Products are delivered straight to you, hassle-free. (No wasting gas or time in traffic to go to the dispensary.)

THC, Explained

THC is one of the many cannabinoids in cannabis. You can find THC in both marijuana and hemp products.

While mainly known for its ability to cause a high, THC has many potential uses in maintaining and boosting wellness. It may help with pain, eye health, sleep troubles, low appetite, and more.

Hemp-derived CBD with no more than 0.3% THC is federally legal. Marijuana-sourced THC and all high-THC products are still illegal at the federal level. Local laws vary and are in flux, so it’s necessary to periodically check what’s allowed in your area.

You can buy CBD products with limited THC online or [often] in person. Marijuana THC and high-THC items can only be purchased in person where approved.  Regardless, only shop with trustworthy retailers and get high-quality products that fit your needs and preferences.

FAQs Buzzin’ Through the Hive

What is THC?

THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol. Tetrahydrocannabinol is a cannabinoid (naturally-occurring plant substance) in cannabis — both marijuana (higher concentrations) and hemp (lower concentrations).

What does THC do?

As a psychoactive compound, THC can get you high. But, it may also help you achieve a host of positive wellness outcomes — like ease pain, reduce nausea, facilitate sleep, and lessen muscle spasms. Some people experience downsides to THC (e.g., anxiety or paranoia). Ultimately, what THC does for you may differ from the result others experience.

Is THC legal?

Yes and no. 0.3% or less THC that accompanies hemp-derived CBD is federally legal; local jurisdictions have their own assortment of laws on how much THC is permitted in CBD oil products. THC in the form of marijuana-based products is currently illegal at the federal level (though as of April 2022 there is legislation in Congress that would change this!). Again, each state has its own medical and recreational marijuana rules. Laws are fluid — so your best bet is to check the legalities of THC in your area before purchasing.

Watch & Learn Even More

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References

  1. Raypole, C. (2019). A Simple Guide to the Endocannabinoid System. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/endocannabinoid-system
  2. DiLonardo, MJ. (2019). CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/cbd-thc-difference
  3. Holland, K. (2020). CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-vs-thc
  4. Tabackman, L, et al. (2021). What is THC? Benefits, risks, side effects. Insider. https://www.insider.com/what-is-thc
  5. (2019). Three GRAS Notices for Hemp Seed-Derived Ingredients for Food. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-responds-three-gras-notices-hemp-seed-derived-ingredients-use-human-food
  6. Rae, A. (20214). How Is Marijuana Safer and Healthier Than Alcohol? GoodRx. https://www.goodrx.com/well-being/substance-use/is-cannabis-safer-or-healthier-than-alcohol
  7.  (2018). Prescription Drugs vs. Cannabis: Recent Studies. WayofLeaf. https://wayofleaf.com/blog/cannabis-vs-prescription-drugs
  8.  (2021). Marijuana Effects | Short Term, Long Term & Side Effects. American Addiction Centers. https://drugabuse.com/drugs/marijuana/effects-use
  9. Tabackman, L, et al. (2021). Marijuana effects: The short-term and long-term effects of weed. Insider. https://www.insider.com/marijuana-effects
  10. (2022). H.R.3617 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3617
  11. Van Green, T. (2021). Americans overwhelmingly say marijuana should be legal for recreational or medical use. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/16/americans-overwhelmingly-say-marijuana-should-be-legal-for-recreational-or-medical-use
  12. (2022). What We Know About Marijuana. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/what-we-know.html
Posted on June 17, 2022
Updated on November 15, 2022
Green Bee Life, author of What is THC? [An In-Depth Guide for Everyone] GBL Staff Writer

Green Bee Life is your resource for accurate, transparent, and up-to-date content and products related to cannabis.

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