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What is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)?

What is THC?


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On this page, we talk about cannabinoids, especially what THC, i.e. tetrahydrocannabinol, is and what kind of effects it has.




The medicinal value of cannabis plants is based on the compounds in the plant, cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids can be classified into external cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids, internal cannabinoids or endocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids produced in the laboratory.


More than 120 different cannabinoids have been found


120 different cannabinoids have been found in hemp, over 200 terpenes. The best-known active ingredients of hemp are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) , and cannabinol (CBN). (1)

The medicinal as well as intoxicating effects of hemp were discovered thousands of years ago. There is a heated debate today on the legality of hemp and cannabis. Previously, the cultivation of both oil and fiber hemp was completely banned in Finland for decades, and hemp-related research was stopped elsewhere in the world.

In legal in cannabis products CBD and THC concentrations are usually expressed as a percentage. If there is little or no CBD, THC can be thought of as a measure of its strength in much the same way as the percentage of alcohol in beverages. CBD works almost in the opposite direction and partially reverses the intoxicating effects of THC (1).


What is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)?


THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is a psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant that is classified as phytocannabinoids and organic chemicals. Cannabis was classified as a drug in 1961 due to its active ingredient THC. At the time, it was believed that THC had no medicinal potential (2).



The more THC, the stronger the effects


THC-rich varieties of Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa are mainly used for entertainment purposes. Cannabis is considered the most widely used illicit drug in the world.

Roughly generalized, the higher the THC concentration, the stronger the effects. The THC percentage, which in the US legal market usually hovers around 18-22 percent, is a bit like the alcohol percentage in drinks, which tells about the strength of the drink but not the quality (1).


THC was first isolated in 1964.


THC was successfully isolated from cannabis for the first time in 1964. It is the main psychoactive component of cannabis, responsible for the psychoactive or intoxicating effects of the plant (1).

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is found in species of the cannabis plant family (Cannabaceae) (Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis) and is largely known for its psychoactive side effects. When ingested (burned, steamed or eaten), THC binds to the same receptor (CB1) as the body-produced endocannabinoid anandamide, which is responsible for the well-being produced by exercise. This affects, for example, coordination, pleasure, and cognitive abilities. It also increases appetite by affecting the hypothalamus of the brain, which is responsible for transmitting hunger signals (3).


What are the effects of THC?


THC gets into a state of intoxication, commonly referred to as a “cloud”. In addition to being in the cloud, it has many other effects.

In human experiments, THC binds to cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2. Cannabinoid receptors are found all over the body from the peripheral nervous system to the brain. These receptors form the so-called endocannabinoid system , which was not discovered until the 1990s (1).

“Depending on the uses of cannabis, a large proportion of its active ingredients may be wasted: for example, smoking cannabis produces only 5-15% of the THC.” (Vanha-Majamaa, 2018, p.23).

When burned and vaporized, cannabis THC is immediately transported through the alveoli to the bloodstream and to cannabinoid receptors. When ingested, the effects of THC begin more slowly as it passes from the stomach to the liver, which breaks down THC into more potent 11-hydroxy-delta-9-THC and eventually enters it into the bloodstream (1).

Next, information on the potential benefits and harms of THC.


What are the benefits of THC?


The effects of THC vary between different cannabis species and varieties, but common sensations include, for example, relaxation, cheerfulness, hunger, and slowing down and distortions of the sense of time. In addition to these, the effects can be an increased pulse and hilarity erupting in fits of laughter.

However, THC has other effects and can act, for example, as an analgesic, among other positive effects (10). There are indications of the benefits of THC in the treatment of health problems and ailments such as insomnia, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even cancer symptoms (4, 5, and 6).

THC can also benefit patients with severe health problems such as MS and fibromyalgia (4, 7). THC has also been found to be of use in the treatment of patients with nausea and inflammation (6).


Does THC have any side effects?


THC also has disadvantages. Although cannabis, like many other intoxicants, does not actually cause physical dependence, it can lead to psychological dependence, which can cause problems for some users. Other most common disadvantages under the influence are short-term Memory Problems. Some users may experience significant anxiety or even paranoia (1, 8, and 9).

The development of tolerance can also be a problem when using cannabis, i.e. with continuous use, even larger amounts are needed to get the same effect.

Research has also suggested that THC may cause problems in users genetically susceptible to psychosis (9).


When THC is oxidized, it turns into CBN, i.e. cannabinol


CBN, or cannabinol, is a slightly lesser-known cannabinoid in hemp. CBN also calms and can help with insomnia and pain conditions, for example. THC is converted to CBN upon oxidation. That is, cannabis stored in poorly airtight packaging may cause more drowsiness (1).






  1. Vanha-Majamaa, A. 2018, Kannabiskirja, Helsinki, Kosmos.
  2. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy. 2011.
  3. Patel S, Cone RD. Neuroscience: a cellular basis for the munchies. Nature. (2015)
  4. Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes
  5. Short and Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  6. Cannabinoids in intestinal inflammation and cancer
  7. Cannabinoids for Treatment of MS Symptoms: State of the Evidence – PubMed
  8. Reto Auer . Association Between Lifetime Marijuana Use and Cognitive Function in Middle Age: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study, JAMA Intern Med . 2016.
  9. Siri Helle et al. Cannabis use is associated with 3 years earlier Onset of schizophrenia Spectrum disorder in a naturalistic, multi-site sample (N = 1119) . Schizophrenia Research . 2015. ScienceDirect.
  10. Jeremy R Johnson et al. Multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of THC: CBD extract and THC extract in patients with intractable cancer-related pain. 2010.


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