Cannabis has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes since it was first discovered thousands of years ago. Despite this, many people still don’t really understand how cannabis works. The main effects of cannabis are a result of the compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC affects the body in various ways but is overall safe, natural, and offers many healing properties. Here, we’ll discuss the biology of THC, explain how it works, and debunk some myths about THC too.
THC: The Essential Biology
Cannabis is made up of 104 compounds known as cannabinoids1. Some of these cannabinoids are psychoactive, which means that they alter human perceptions, moods, and feelings. THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis. Essentially, THC is what gets you high when you ingest cannabis, but it also has other effects like relieving pain and anxiety.
So How Does it Work?
THC affects the body’s endocannabinoid systems, changing the way chemicals are transmitted. The human body already contains compounds which act on this system, such as anandamide and 2 arachidonoyl glycerol2. THC mimics these compounds and acts mainly on two types of receptors. These are CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors in the brain regulate mood, appetite, and movement, while CB2 receptors in the rest of the body reduce inflammation and pain.
What Are the Risks of THC?
THC is a natural compound which is not associated with many risks. However, it can slow down brain development in children and teenagers3 so it is only appropriate for adult use or for those who have been approved by a medical professional and possess a med card. THC is also associated with motor vehicle accidents4 so driving while under the influence of THC is not only illegal but potentially dangerous. THC can also cause respiratory problems if ingested by smoking. According to Dr. William Checkley from Johns Hopkins University: “One of the biggest issues with cannabis is when you smoke it […] there are also all different kinds of components that come in with the burning of any substance.”4
What Are the Benefits of THC?
Scientific studies show that at appropriate doses THC brings about a high level of relaxation and reduce stress and anxiety5. As a result, THC can be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders. It is also an effective analgesic, meaning that it reduces pain significantly6. For this reason, THC is an effective treatment for chronic pain and pain associated with conditions like arthritis and cancer. Experts even suggest that access to cannabis could reduce the growing problems associated with pharmaceutical opiates.
Common Myths About THC
Myths about THC have led to a gross misunderstanding of cannabis and its effects. Some common myths include:
• Cannabis is connected to criminal activity.
Cannabis is not associated with higher crime rates. In fact, it may be associated with lower levels of assault and homicide7.
• Cannabis harms your body.
Aside from potential respiratory problems associated with smoking, cannabis is quite safe for your body. In fact, there have been no recorded fatal overdoses of cannabis8.
• Cannabis makes you a lazy person.
Cannabis might make you relaxed but if you’re an active, driven person, you don’t need to worry. Highly successful people like Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Carl Sagan have used and advocated for cannabis.
The Take Away
Cannabis is not the dangerous, criminal-creating substance society used to believe, it as a safe medicine and tool for a greater quality of life. Everybody is different and will react differently to various amounts of THC. Its important to listen to your body – if you find that you are more anxious or paranoid under the influence maybe you consumed too high of a dose for your comfort, maybe the method of consumption was not ideal for you, or perhaps THC simply does not mesh with your biology. At the end of the day cannabis should be a substance that aides your relaxation, happiness, pain management and general health – and as with any mind-altering substance, must be used responsibly.