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Learn About the Most Famous Cannabis Compound, THC

Short for Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC is one of the most renowned compounds found in cannabis flower. While THC is now a household name and increasingly accessible around the U.S., you may have questions about how it works and whether it’s right for you. That’s why we created this guide to help you learn more about the effects of cannabis products, what to expect when choosing THC cannabis products, and tips for finding the best type of product for your needs.

What is THC?

Delta-9 THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. It’s responsible for the intoxicating feelings associated with consuming cannabis products that contain THC. First discovered in the 1960s by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam1, THC is one of the most thoroughly studied cannabinoids. Over the last 60 years, THC has been studied for its potential properties to help with nausea, pain, anxiety, and inflammation, among other ailments.

How does THC work?

Research is ongoing into the precise mechanism of action by which cannabinoids, including THC, influence us. However, current evidence suggests that THC works by binding to receptors in the endogenous cannabinoids system (ECS)

The ECS is composed of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids produced by your body, and enzymes that work together to regulate your mood, appetite, digestion, and more major functions. This system is responsible for many of the therapeutic effects of cannabis

As of now, two types of receptors have been identified in the ECS: the CB1 receptor and the CB2 receptor. These receptors are located throughout your body, with particularly large concentrations in your nervous system, skin, immune system, and other places. When you consume cannabis, THC binds directly to these receptors and influences things like our mood, sleep, and memory. In fact, THC closely resembles anandamide, an endocannabinoid produced by our bodies, in structure2. There’s also research that suggests THC stimulates neurons in the reward system to release higher levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for functions like pleasurable reward and motivation.

Did you know there are other types of THC out there, like Delta 8 THC, Delta 10 THC, and THC-O? Learn more about these compounds in our handy guides, which explain how they differ from Delta-9 and how these compounds might be helpful for you.

What do we know about THC so far?

There is still much research to be done into THC to determine more specifically how it affects our bodies and how it could serve as a therapeutic agent for a wide range of symptoms. Research is promising, however, and the following are all among the potential benefits of THC’s application:

  • Chronic pain relief: Recent studies have shown that products with more THC can be helpful in the treatment of chronic pain. A study from April 2021 found that increased exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, appeared to be closely related to improvements in pain3.
  • Nausea and vomiting relief:  In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, researchers showed that 96% of patients using cannabis to treat nausea experienced relief4. Delta-9 THC also appears to be effective at preventing nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy as well5.
  • PTSD: A 2021 study by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) explored whether three different concentrations of cannabis could help reduce PTSD symptoms in 76 U.S. veterans who did not respond to conventional treatment6. The research showed improvements in samples containing 11 percent CBD, as well as mixed samples containing 8 percent of both THC and CBD; although, the cannabis treatments did not outperform placebo. However, a separate study from 2020 found that those who consumed cannabis were more than 2.5 times as likely to no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD as those who did not consume cannabis7.
  • Appetite stimulation: Cannabis research has continuously suggested THC has the ability to stimulate appetite. This is potentially valuable for those suffering from illnesses related to appetite loss, such as cancer and HIV. Researchers from Washington State University recently reported research that found cannabis consumption triggers hunger hormones and alters eating behaviors in rats8. This could glean insight into why many cannabis consumers get “the munchies” after consuming.
  • Stress alleviation: Research supports that low amounts THC can help alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety9. When consumed in higher amounts, however, THC may worsen feelings of anxiety, especially in those living with an anxiety disorder. If this is a concern for you, it’s important to look for cannabis products with a balanced ratio of THC to Cannabidiol (CBD) or higher amounts of CBD to THC, as CBD can modify THC’s effects.
  • Neuroprotective properties: Some research into cannabis shows that THC can serve as a neuroprotectant by activating the CB1 receptor. According to one study, a single treatment with an ultra-low dose of THC can modify brain plasticity and induce long-term behavioral and developmental effects in the brain.

Types of THC products you’ll find in a dispensary

The type of cannabis product you choose is an important part of your experience, as each product type has a different effect on your body and mind. Some of the options you’ll find include:

  • High THC flower. The classic cannabis flower is available in many cultivars, each of which carries a unique phytocannabinoid and terpene profile. It’s important to remember  there are several cultivars bred to contain higher levels of THC. You’ll find cultivars with more than 15% THC content – some even go as high as 30%! Examples of high THC flower cultivars include Banana Kush and Ghost Train Haze.
  • Vapes: THC vape cartridges offer one of the quickest and easiest ways to consume cannabis oil. They’re a great option if you prioritize discretion, convenience, and potency. Vapes contain higher concentrations of THC than flower. They’re available in cartridge form attached to a battery, and there are disposable forms available as well.
  • Concentrates: A large category that spans many product forms, concentrates contain elevated levels of THC. To make concentrates, THC and other phytocannabinoids and terpenes are extracted from cannabis flower. Each concentrate type has its own unique form and advantages, due to the many ways these products are made. For example, the glass-like shatter is thin and brittle because the cannabis extract is laid flat on a sheet to settle, while fluffy budder is “whipped” into its airy consistency.
  • Ingestibles: Edibles and beverages containing THC are a growing favorite among consumers. Most ingestible products take longer to have an effect, but last longer than inhaled products like flower and vapes. Ingestibles are an excellent option if you don’t want to inhale combustibles. They’re also great if you’re carefully monitoring the amount of THC you’re consuming per session, as that can be hard to measure when inhaling.
  • Tinctures: Produced by infusing cannabis extract into a carrier oil, tinctures are taken orally and often have a biphasic effect, meaning it absorbs through your mouth tissue and also makes its way through your digestive system once swallowed. This combines to offer fast-acting relief with long-term effects.
  • Topicals: THC-infused topicals and lotions can be helpful in the management of chronic pain symptoms and other conditions. Because they are applied topically, they typically offer a localized effect than orally ingestible products. Aside from transdermal patches, which allow cannabinoids to enter your bloodstream and offer systemic effects, most topicals will only be felt where they’re applied and not throughout the entire body.
  • RSO: Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) is a thick cannabis concentrate known for its potency. Packaged in a syringe for easy measuring, only a small amount of RSO, often consumed sublingually or ingested, is needed to experience its effects.

How to choose the right THC product for you

When it comes time to choose which THC product is right for you, you’ll want to pay attention to a few key factors, including:

  • Your reason for trying THC: Knowing which product or approach to take with THC entirely depends on your basis for trying it. Since many products offer differing applications and effects, understanding your goal or desired outcome is vital before picking something off the shelf. For example, if you’re looking for long-lasting relief, you may want to try sublingual or ingestible products.
  • Product types: THC products can be found in many forms at the dispensary, from inhalable vape cartridges to localized topicals. Being that each product has a different application and onset time, understanding these pros and cons is necessary to know what’s right for you. Visit the Ethos guide to product types to learn more about product onset and duration.
  • Cannabinoid profile: Many of the products you’ll find at a dispensary contain a variety of cannabinoids in addition to THC. This can significantly change your experience, as cannabinoids interact with each other to alter their characteristics in a process known as the entourage effect. Understanding the complete cannabinoid profile and what that means for you is key to making the right choice.
  • Terpene profile: Much like the cannabinoid profile, the terpene profile of a cannabis product matters. Terpenes are volatile organic compounds known for their scents and flavors, but they’re also thought to augment the effects of the cannabinoids. For example, myrcene is often associated with drowsiness, while limonene may offer an energetic boost. Pay attention to how different terpenes interact with one another and cannabinoids when choosing a cannabis product.

Finding relief with THC

Whether you’re looking for relief from chronic pain or just want to relax, understanding how THC works is the first step to figuring out the best option. For more information on THC, other cannabinoids, and which product is best for you, or if you’re ready to make a purchase, visit your local Ethos dispensary.



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