What is THC? – Tetrahydrocannabinol Effects, Uses, Benefits & More

Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the plant's most well-known cannabinoid. Its controversial effects have caused debate yet its properties are more extensive than just a high. But how so? Let's take a look.

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

While THC is the most recognised cannabinoid compound in cannabis, it's also the reason why marijuana is still federally illegal in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. Though, despite its classification of being a Schedule I drug, THC has many benefits: it's more than just a high. It can reduce blood pressure, relieve pain, stop nausea, and PTSD symptoms. 

Times are changing; cannabis is evolving out of its 'stoner stereotype' and into a medical marvel – if, of course, it's used appropriately. Amidst all of the confusion and propaganda cannabis has endured in the past, THC is misunderstood.

So let's break everything down: what exactly are we dealing with? 

What is THC?

THC is the most well-known compound in the cannabis plant. When cannabis is applied, smoked, or consumed then the cannabinoid compound is released into our body and reacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS)

Chemically speaking, THC and CBD are identical. They both have 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, the organisation of these atoms results in vastly different effects. THC has psychoactive properties, CBD does not. 

THC is the reason why cannabis remains federally illegal as a Schedule I drug. When it is released in the body, it reacts with our dopamine levels, causing an effect on our mood, appetite, memory, and pleasure-driven feelings. This is what causes us to get high. 

In fact, the effects of THC are yielded through the process of decarboxylating the cannabis. Before this occurs, the compound is essentially THCA. By heating the cannabis, it lifts the barrier that prevents it to binding with the ECS receptors. THCA becomes THC and we can experience the high that results in it binding to the CB1 receptors.

Because of this, THC has been at the core of heavy propaganda in the past. In the 1930s it became the focus on the 'War on Drugs' and the release of 'Reefer Madness': sending the message that marijuana use would lead to an inevitable catastrophe if consumed. It became illegal during the Reagan era, and has since been labelled as a 'gateway drug', meaning that it is likely to lead people to want to experience more heavy drugs as a result of feeling the cannabis high. 

Over the years, THC is becoming more understood. Legalisation is still finding its feet, however, medicinal marijuana with THC is legal in 33 states in the U.S. while being legal in 11 states for recreational use. While Australia has legalised medicinal use of the plant in all states, Canada has legalised the plant entirely. 

For those who are either new to the plant or want to enjoy the wellness benefit of THC without the high only need to look for strains with low levels of THC. The more potent the THC concentrate is, the higher you'll get. CBD products, on the other hand, contain no more than 0.3% THC, users won't get high and the plant can still work its magic. 

How Does it Work? 

Our ECS is responsible for restoring and maintaining balance in our bodies. It affects our daily functioning including our mood, appetite, sleep, and pain perception. If something is off-balance, then the ECS will send its cannabinoids to restore balance again.

When we consume cannabis, its cannabinoid reacts with our cannabinoid receptors. THC binds itself exclusively to the CB1 receptor. When this happens, it influences the release of our body's neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are responsible for sending messages between cells and they play an important role in our daily functioning. Stress, immune health, pain perception, and pleasure are all felt as a result of communication between our neurotransmitters. 

 The CB1 receptors are commonly found in the brain and spinal cord but are also located around the body, including the gastrointestinal, urinary, and reproductive tracts. 

THC also influences our body's dopamine levels, which is what results in a euphoric feeling. Our dopamine system is responsible for pleasure and feelings of gratification so when THC stimulates a dopamine release, this makes us feel good. Really good. It's the interaction with our dopamine levels that makes us have the munchies while feeling good and mellow. 

The more THC you consume, the more potent its effects will be. It's important to note that not everyone's brain chemistry reacts well THC. If you're prone to anxiety and paranoia, then the dosage of THC can have a severe effect on your mental state. So, if you're new to the plant and unsure of its effects, try something will lower levels of THC and work from there to see what suits you. 

THC can affect people in different ways. So, if you're using cannabis for medicinal purposes, then speak to your health-care professional to discuss what potency will best work for you. 

What are the Benefits?

THC has a lot of influence over our bodies and our day-to-day functions. Because of this, it can aid the symptoms of many ailments, including pain relief, insomnia, glaucoma symptoms, and nausea. 


Glaucoma is a degenerative disease that causes blindness. It occurs when there has been a build-up of intraocular pressure (IOP: high blood pressure in the eye) that causes damage to the optic nerve.

THC can reduce blood pressure in our bodies. So when patients consume cannabis their IOP levels drop and relieve the pain in the eye. While there are still a few kinks in the research, physicians recommend cannabis for advanced stages of glaucoma for pain management. 


THC-based cannabis has been an effective resource to ease nausea for thousands of years; for many reasons. Medicinally, nausea is a qualifying condition for severe morning sickness, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and nausea as a side effect from hepatitis C medication. 

Whatever the reason, THC-based cannabis can interact with our dorsal vagal complex (DVC) located in our brain that triggers our emetic responses. It can interact with our DVC and suppress feelings of nausea. THC also suppresses our endocannabinoids in our emetic reflex pathways. 


Insomnia can be caused by a range of different conditions and is a popular reason why people use medicinal cannabis. THC-based cannabis research is mixed, however, it gives relief for a lot of insomnia sufferers. Even PTSD sufferers report self-medicating with the plant to aid their insomnia.

THC can help lower stress levels, aid depressive symptoms, reduce threat perception, and decrease the likelihood of nightmares. This is because the cannabinoid can lower our chances of dreaming by influencing our REM sleep. 

Pain relief

Pain relief is the main reason why people seek medicinal cannabis. Cannabis is even gaining traction as an 'exit drug' rather than a 'gateway drug'. Patients are using cannabis as a way to phase out of the use of opioids

CBD products are a great resource for inflammation, however, THC subsides nerve pain. In conditions like multiple sclerosis and ALS, it can serve as a nerve protectant and reduce muscle spasms. It also controls excess glutamate release that results in the nerve damage that causes ALS. 

Related Article

Top 7 High THC Cannabis Strains

THC Strains

Understanding your strains can help you with what kind of high you have. Here are some popular THC-rich strains to consider: 

Girl Scout Cookies (GSC): 

This strain is a cross between Durban Poison (Sativa dominant) and OG Kush (Indica dominant) which gives the best of both worlds. GSC is a popular strain for PTSD sufferers and is perfect for nausea and has around 28% THC, meaning the feeling is good but intense. 


This strain makes you feel happy, relaxed works wonders for anxiety and stress. It's also known to inspire a little creativity as well. Chemdawg has 19% THC which means that the effects are potent and not something to underestimate. It's great for PTSD and chronic pain.

Bruce Banner: 

Averaging at 23% THC this strain can knock you off your feet. It leaves you feeling euphoric, uplifted, and creative. It can help relieve depressive symptoms, pain, and calm your stress levels.

As research into THC escalates, so will its reputation. It's is not for everyone, however, it's hard to ignore its benefits. While it remains federally illegal in the U.S., U.K., and Australia the research into the benefits of the well-known cannabinoid is gaining traction more so than ever. 

The more we know about THC, the more we can benefit from it. In the meantime, it remains to be one of the most controversial compounds of the plant. It can do wonders for some and have some unpleasant side effects for others. Understanding what it is and its effects are the first step in unleashing its potential so it can be used in a safe, effective way. 

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Taylor Ridewood
Taylor Ridewood

Taylor is a Sydney-based writer with a background in psychology and professional writing. She has a keen interest in the benefits of medicinal cannabis and enjoys researching the multi-faceted effects of cannabis on the body and mind.

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