Sure, you’ve heard of marijuana. You probably also know many names for it – such as cannabis, chronic, grass, or the colloquial term, “weed.” But what exactly is marijuana, and more importantly, what is THC?
What is THC
First, a Definition
What is marijuana? Usually, when people say marijuana or weed, they are referring to the dried buds of the female plant. These buds are smoked, ingested, vaped, or taken orally, for example, as a THC tincture.
Many people believe marijuana is the iconic leaf that you see in popular culture. However, the fan-shaped leaves of the plant, though they are a staple of the stoner community, contain little to no THC. They also do not cause the popular psychoactive effects. Therefore, they’re often discarded with the rest of the “trim” during the harvesting. In fact, marijuana leaves are more like leafy greens, and some speculate that consuming them raw has many health benefits.
The main point is: the marijuana leaf is not what attracts people to using cannabis. The real draw is THC.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC, is the chemical compound in marijuana that causes the psychoactive effects, aka the “high” most people seek when consuming weed. Here’s how THC goes to work:
Let’s say you dab. When you consume concentrated marijuana, you actually dab THC. The THC compound attaches to the cannabinoid receptors that occur naturally in your body (more on those later) and activates them. You know that giggly, euphoric feeling you get after you take a dab of some high THC wax or an edible? That is the THC causing your brain cells to release dopamine, the body’s feel-good chemical.
THC can be consumed in many forms, such as in the above-mentioned tincture, edibles, THC pills, drinks like THC teas, and, of course, by smoking it. There’s even a THC patch.
What about CBD?
THC isn’t the only helpful chemical that you’ll find in marijuana. Those who are not too fond of the psychoactive effects of THC might want to consider trying high CBD low THC weed or weed without THC.
CBD refers to cannabidiol, the other abundant chemical compound in the marijuana plant. Does CBD make you high? No, cannabidiol is nonpsychoactive. This means it does not cause you to get high, experience the munchies, or develop any of the anxiety that some people feel when they consume THC.
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CBD is thought to be behind the more medicinal effects of the plant. Some jokingly call CBD products marijuana without THC, although purists will argue that no such thing exists. Advocates make the argument that CBD can help treat a host of health issues such as depression, anxiety, and even cancer. There’s a lot to support these claims, but you should always speak with your doctor if you are planning to self-medicate. Cannabis could negatively interact with medications that you may already be taking, and that would be a real buzzkill.
Cannabinoids and Trichomes
THC and CBD aren’t the only terms associated with cannabis plants. There’re also cannabinoids and trichomes.
What are cannabinoids? Cannabinoids are the chemicals found in the marijuana plant. The two main ones are, of course, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). However, there are currently over a hundred other cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant. These chemicals include THC-A or tetrahydrocannabolic acid, CBN, or cannabinol, and THC-V, or tetrahydrocannabivarin.
Cannabinoids are responsible for producing the different effects that consuming cannabis has on the brain and body. Ever notice how some strains make you feel like you are glued to your couch, or that you could eat an entire box of cookies? That’s the result of the different cannabinoids in the strain.
Trichomes house the cannabinoids of a cannabis plant. Trichomes are tiny, hair-like growths on any type of plant. On dried marijuana flowers, they look like glitter or tiny diamond-like sugar crystals. Trichomes are an essential part of marijuana because, typically, the more trichomes, the more THC.
Related: AM I TOO HIGH? HOW TO SOBER UP FROM WEED
How does marijuana Affect the Brain?
You might not know this, but your body is filled with cannabinoid receptors located throughout your brain. These receptors are part of what controls your memory, your thinking, hand-eye coordination, and of course, pleasure. When you smoke weed or do a dab, cannabinoids, such as THC or CBD, attach themselves to your brain’s cannabinoid receptors.
The next thing you know, your memories feel a little fuzzy. Maybe there’s a slight hallucination. If you thought colors looked a little brighter after smoking a joint, you are correct, they are appearing more brightly to you. You’re probably really happy as well. That intense euphoria is the effect of those cannabinoids, causing your brain to release dopamine.
As your brain develops a tolerance to THC, you feel it slightly less each time, causing you to consume it in higher amounts to achieve that same effect. This is why some people can smoke bowl after bowl and still feel sober. Luckily, it is very easy to lower your tolerance so you can feel high again. Simply take a tolerance break, or T break, and stop smoking weed. Understandably, that may be easier said than done!
Can THC cause harm to the brain? As with any substance, THC is thought to leave lasting effects on the brain, especially when consumed in mass quantities by a person whose brain has not finished developing. This is why it is best to hold off on becoming a heavy user until your late twenties - once your brain reaches maturity.
How else does THC affect the brain? THC use is often associated with short term memory loss. It can also cause severe anxiety in some people. However, newer studies are beginning to suggest that cannabis can help Alzheimer’s patients retain their memories. It’s a great example of how this “drug” can create a variety of experiences!
What does weed do to your body?
Cannabis use not only affects your brain; it also can do plenty to the body! Some strains make you feel like you are stuck to the floor, while others make you feel like you could run a marathon. The potential number of outcomes is the main reason why it is important to be familiar with the different types of weed strains. That way, you aren’t lying down for a nap when you need to get things done around the house. Better yet, you’re not wide awake in the middle of the night when you need to get a good night’s rest.
When talking about THC and CBD’s physical effects, we, of course, have to talk about pain relief. Many cannabis lovers use cannabis for its pain-relieving effects, making it a go-to for people like veterans and those with chronic pain. Retired professional athletes have even praised cannabis for helping them kick the habit of using far more dangerous and addictive prescription pain killers.
On its own, CBD has gained a lot of attention. It has successfully treated seizure disorders, including epilepsy. One example is a high CBD marijuana strain known as Charlotte’s Web; it’s named after a young girl whose life it saved.
There are, of course, some negative effects to weed. Smoking anything is not that great for your lungs, and long term, it can be damaging. This is why the average cannabis consumer uses different methods of consumption, such as vaping with disposable THC cartridges or ingesting edibles or THC tinctures. Some people experience intense effects such as headache, severe cottonmouth, and a brief loss of equilibrium when under the influence of cannabis. Dizziness and extreme fatigue can be common when one consumes too much. As with all things, moderation is the key with cannabis.
Related: HOW TO GET HIGHER SMOKING WEED
Is it Difficult to get THC out of Your System?
Getting THC out of your system is not difficult, that is true. It does, however, take a lot longer than other substances to leave your system. This is because THC is fat-soluble, meaning that it is stored in your body fat. This also means it takes a lot longer to break down and exit the body.
A person of average height and weight who smokes every day will find that it takes about three to three and a half weeks for THC to leave their system. This is if you are taking a standard urinalysis test or UA. A saliva drug test for THC is not as useful for detecting THC. Generally, the only way you are going to fail one of those is if you smoked a joint right before taking the test.
The current THC tests make it difficult for law enforcement to create an effective and accurate “THC breathalyzer” that catches people who are driving while under the influence. Of course, a standard urine test is not a good option. First of all, a cop is not going to pop one on you during a routine traffic stop. Second, if you used cannabis in the last few weeks or so, you’re going to fail – how accurate is that?
Related: HOW TO PASS A DRUG TEST IN 24 HOURS
Why do Different Strains have Different Effects?
Weed is weed, so why does one strain make you zone out and watch hours of YouTube videos, while another makes you want to take on giant tasks, such as rearranging your living room? This is like asking why all food does not taste the same, or why some alcohols might intoxicate you more. The answer is quite simply, because they are different.
Separate strains of cannabis contain different terpenes, which are in many species of plants. Terpenes affect how a cannabis strain tastes, how it smells, and perhaps most importantly, what effects a particular strain might have on you.
For instance, the terpene limonene is common in citrus fruits. It gives certain strains of cannabis a more fruity or citrusy flavor and aroma. The terpene is also believed to have the ability to help with stress relief. Terpenes are not just present in cannabis; limonene, for example, is often used in cleaning products. It gives them that pleasant lemony scent, which covers up the harsh chemical smell of the cleaning product itself.
Terpenes have helped us to understand more about the cannabis plant and why some strains react the way they do. Breeders use their knowledge of cannabis terpenes to create new strains with more beneficial effects than negative ones. This makes it possible for them to cultivate some really choice, dank buds. We even know how to create synthetic THC in a lab because of the research into cannabis terpenes.
Ever wonder why the weed we smoke today is better than what our parents were smoking? You can thank the people studying terpenes. Next time you smoke a joint, thank them for their service to the scientific and stoner community.
Is Marijuana Good for you?
This question is asked frequently, and there is no straight answer. Is weed good for you? The answer is both yes and no. Cannabis is great for some people and not so great for others. The same can be said about any pharmaceutical drug or illicit substance.
Weed might not be the magical cure-all for you that it seems to be for other people. Some have found that it made their depression or anxiety worse than antidepressants. Others found that cannabis use was the only thing that helped them. One thing that we can definitely say is that cannabis is not the dangerous gateway drug that governments, schools, and, most of all, law enforcement have said that it is. Cannabis still to this date has never killed anyone, nor does it cause nearly as much destruction as alcohol, heroin, or methamphetamine. That’s why it is legal in some capacity in over three-quarters of the country.
We know one thing about cannabis: it is essential. When governors across the US were deciding which businesses would remain open during the global coronavirus pandemic, they included marijuana dispensaries. Once you make that argument, it does not make a lot of sense to continue to classify cannabis as a schedule 1 drug that is more dangerous than either meth or heroin.
So, there you go. You now understand THC, CBD, terpenes, and trichomes and how beneficial and fun they can be. You may have also learned a reason to love marijuana even more.