chemical structure of THC with a cannabis plant on a black background

Cannabis Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC as it is better known, is one of the 120 cannabinoids found within marijuana. By far the most well-known and researched cannabinoid. Demand for any bud with a high THC content has grown astronomically in recent years. Along with high-grade bud, THC products have flooded the shelves of dispensaries claiming to be the next big thing to give you that much desired cannabis high. But what is THC? How does it get you high? And what are its effects?

Whether you are a newbie or a curious consumer eager to know more about this popular cannabinoid, this article delves deep into everything you need to know about THC.

What Is THC?

Cannabis is a complex plant that naturally produces well over 400 chemical compounds. Of these, more than 100 of them are cannabinoids, such as CBD, THC and THCA. The different physiological and psychological effects of cannabis on the human body are caused by its chemical compounds. Cannabinoids produce their effects on the human body by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors in our endocannabinoid system producing the high that you experience after consuming.

So what is THC? THC is the most well known and abundant cannabinoid found within cannabis. Research has linked THC to the high that you experience after consuming cannabis and it has now become the main measure to which a strains potency is judged upon. Does Delta-9 THC get you high? Yes THC is known as the main psychoactive molecule that provides the psychological effects and the euphoric high experienced by marijuana users.

Discovered and isolated in 1964 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam an israeli pharmacologist. Dr. Mechoulam isolated and synthesized the psychoactive compound from seized Lebanese hashish. This opened a new path in the cannabis research community, which led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS is a biological cell signalling system that regulates and controls our most vital bodily functions, such as pain sensation, memory, learning, sleep, mood, and immune responses. This system comprises cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. 

Endocannabinoids are chemical compounds that bind to endocannabinoid receptors, signalling that the ECS needs to take action. This helps maintain homeostasis and keep our internal bodily functions running smoothly. THC is similar to our natural endocannabinoids. Hence, it’s able to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. This interaction produces a range of psychoactive and effects on the mind that create the high we experience.

THC is extremely lipophilic, which leads to its storage in our body fat cells for a significant amount of time. This means that while saliva drug tests detect THC for about 24 hours, urine tests can detect THC presence in urine for approximately 3-30 days. 

Where Is THC Found on the Cannabis Plant?

Many people mistakenly assume that THC is only found within marijuana plants, however this isn’t 100% accurate. First, it’s important to note that THC can be found in the two varieties of cannabis plants (hemp and marijuana). The difference being that hemp only produces less than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight. 

Marijuana plant glands secrete a higher amount of resinous trichomes than hemp plants. Trichomes are the small hair-like outgrowths that cover the flowers of the female cannabis plant giving them a shiny white appearance. Trichomes naturally produce a substance known as resin which contains an abundant amount of THC and other cannabinoids such as CBD, CBG, and THCV. Although THC is mainly found in resin-secreting flowers, it is also found throughout the aerial parts of marijuana plants, such as the sugar and fan leaves. 

Close up of cannabis flower showing cloudy trichomes
Close up of trichomes on a cannabis bud

What Is Considered High THC?

High THC levels naturally cause a faster onset of intoxicating effects and sometimes can lead to negative effects such as anxiety and paranoia. Cannabis products are generally considered ‘high THC’ when the concentration is over 15%. A high THC product allows consumers to instantly experience a profusion of extremely potent cerebral and physical effects. 

However, every person’s endocannabinoid system is unique. Hence, THC may produce different effects in different consumers. While a 15% THC product may give you ferocious effects, an experienced consumer may consider the same concentration too rather mild.

What is considered high THC is also product dependent. Some of the highest THC cannabis strains are around 30% THC. On the flip side, 30% is considered a low concentration for marijuana concentrates as their THC content often exceeds 70%. In fact, THC Diamonds which are type of concentrate can contain up to 99% THC! 

The bottom line is that high THC is relative to a consumer’s experience and THC tolerance levels. High THC also varies significantly between cannabis products. However, to make things simple when purchasing cannabis seeds, use this handy THC chart to judge just how potent a cannabis strain is.

THC Chart of Potency

THC PercentagePotency RatingCannabis Strains
0 – 5% Very Low (mostly medical)Doctor Seedsman / Charlottes Angel
5 – 10% LowHarlequin / CBD Queen
10 – 15% Low – MediumSweet Cheesecake Auto / Pure Indica
15 – 20%MediumPurple Haze / Northern Lights
20 – 25%HighGirl Scout Cookies / Runtz
25% +Very HighGorilla Glue / Bruce Banner
THC Potency chart explaining what is considered high THC

What color trichomes have the highest THC?

As we have mentioned trichomes are the cannabis plants store of all cannabinoids and terpenes so if you want potent bud that tastes and smells amazing, harvesting at the right time is vital. You can quite easily judge when the perfect time to harvest is based on the color of the trichomes.

To do this simply asses the appearance of the trichomes by looking at them through a magnifying glass or jewellers loupe. You want to harvest them when around 70% are a cloudy milky color and the other 30% have begun to turn amber. Once you notice this your plant is ready for harvest. Act quickly though because cannabis plants only stay in their optimum potency range for around two weeks. After this the cannabinoids begin to degrade and the plant will gradually lose its potency.

Trichome potency chart showing what color trichomes have the highest THC
Trichome potency chart

What Are the Psychoactive Effects of THC?

THC effects can vary dramatically from one person to another. But most people report pleasant euphoria and intense feelings of relaxation. Others can experience heightened sensory perception (extraordinary vision), increased appetite, hallucinations and distortions in time perception. 

THC can also cause adverse reactions like panic, anxiety, impaired motor skills, paranoia, coughing fits, hallucinations, and chest/lung discomforts. NIDA notes that the side effects of marijuana mainly occur when too much is consumed or if the user is a novice. 

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What are THC diamonds

Is THC a depressant?

People often associate the word depressant with depressed, when in fact a depressant in simple terms is something that affects the central nervous system by reducing stimulation by slowing down the messages between the body and the brain. Therefore you can classify THC as a depressant, in the same way that alcohol is also a depressant. THC however can also be classified as a stimulant and hallucinogen as well. THC has the potential to affect how your brain works, causing stimulation and arousal. According to NIDA, when you consume cannabis, THC is absorbed into your bloodstream. From here, it is rapidly distributed throughout your body and brain. Studies show that THC stimulates brain cells to release higher dopamine levels. Dopamine is the feel-good hormone that gives us a sense of euphoria, motivation, learning, and pleasure. 

Can You Overdose On THC? 

An overdose is when a user consumes more than the normal or recommended dosage of a drug. Therefore, it is possible to overdose on THC. But a fatal THC overdose is highly unlikely, according to the CDC. Marijuana edibles tend to cause most overdoses because of the delayed onset of effects, which can take up to 30 minutes to 2 hours to kick in. This delay causes some people to consume more than the intended amount before THC can take effect. 

Consuming too much THC may lead to a number of dangerous and uncomfortable symptoms such as: 

  • Rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pains
  • Psychotic thinking 
  • Coordination issues 
  • Hallucinations 

Unfortunately, you cannot immediately reverse a THC overdose. Thankfully, however, the unpleasant effects will wear off with time. There are also a few things you can do to sober up faster. For instance, you can drink water and eat light snacks to combat cotton mouth. Sometimes if you feel to high the best thing that you can do is simply find something to do to take your mind off of the effects. Many users also claim that a cold shower helps to sober you up.

Some experts also suggest that chewing black peppercorns can help alleviate paranoia and anxiety thanks to its terpenes content. You should seek professional assistance if you experience extreme anxiety or can’t stop vomiting from a THC overdose.

What Medical Uses Does THC Have?

Marijuana has a long history of use to treat pain. Preliminary research has found that the cannabinoids in marijuana, including THC, are responsible for its pain-relieving effects. 

Although THC is well-known for its mind-altering and recreational effects, it can also be used for medical purposes to relieve symptoms of certain conditions. THC studies are still in their early stages, but there is evidence that it can help with the following conditions: 

May Help Alleviate Pain 

Several surveys have found that people mainly use medical marijuana to ease chronic pain. A 2015 systemic review evaluated many cannabis studies involving patients with chronic pain. The review found that THC led to a 40 % improvement in the participants’ pain symptoms. 

Although there is a lot of clinical evidence that marijuana can help ease pain, medical experts insist that more studies are still needed to determine the correct dosage and form of THC for pain relief.

May Improve Sleep Quality 

Medical marijuana appears to improve sleep quality in some cases, especially in people living with health conditions like chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and multiple sclerosis (MS). Studies on THC and sleep show that the cannabinoid can help patients fall asleep faster, reduce sleep disturbances, and ease short-term sleep problems. However, researchers are yet to determine whether THC directly impacts sleep quality or if it promotes better sleep by improving symptoms like chronic pain.

May Help Reduce Nausea and Vomiting from Chemotherapy 

Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Nausea is often difficult to treat using conventional treatments such as prescription medications. The good news is that recent studies have found that cannabis can significantly improve chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. 

One study published in the journal of Clinical Gastroenterology shows that most patients who use marijuana to alleviate nausea experience significant relief. According to the study, 96% of the participants experienced nausea relief within sixty minutes of consuming cannabis. 

Can Help Reduce Muscle Spasms 

Muscle spasms or stiffness are common among people with MS and paraplegia. THC may be a potent anti-inflammatory agent. It can have positive effects in taming inflammation and preventing muscle spasms. According to a 2015 review of many studies, when THC is used in combination with other cannabinoids, it can help reduce self-reported muscle spasms more effectively than a placebo.

There is evidence that THC may also help with the following ailments: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Migraines 
  • Depression 
  • Opioid use disorder 
  • Poor appetite
  • PTSD
  • Seizures

What Is THCV?

Tetrahydrocannabivarin, commonly abbreviated as THCV, is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in cannabis plants. This cannabinoid is similar to THC in that they possess the same molecular structure and psychoactive properties. However, THCV possesses some unique structural elements, which contribute to its unique effects and pronounced therapeutic benefits. 

Most cannabis strains only produce undetectable amounts of THCV. This makes it hard to achieve the desired effects of the cannabinoid. For instance, THCV has been found to have appetite suppressant effects, making it ideal for consumers who want to lose weight. 

Ongoing research also suggests that THCV may help people with diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels and reducing insulin resistance. THCV is also being looked at for panic attacks to help alleviate anxiety and curb attacks in people with PTSD. Keep in mind that THCV research is still limited and has mainly been done on animal models instead of humans. Hence, experts recommend proceeding with caution.

Final Thoughts 

THC is a cannabinoid produced naturally by both hemp and marijuana plants. It is the primary psychoactive compound that produces a euphoric high when you smoke, vape, or eat cannabis. THC produces its effects by attaching to our body’s cannabinoid receptors, which are primarily located in the brain and central nervous system.

As discussed above, THC can also provide therapeutic effects, such as improving sleep quality, alleviating pain, and reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea. It’s important to note that while it’s extremely rare to overdose on THC fatally, high doses can cause adverse effects like severe anxiety, chest pains, and paranoia. Hence, beginners are advised to start with low THC doses and gradually work their way up. Hopefully after reading this you have a good understanding of what is THC and what are its benefits. Should have you any questions, please leave a comment below.


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Joe Musgrave

An avid 420 enthusiast, grower, smoker and writer. Joe writes non stop, sharing his extensive knowledge in the field of cannabis with the wider online 420 community through blogs like ours at High Yield Strains.

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