Apr 11, 2016 8:05 AM

What Is Marijuana's THC Molecule and How Does It Affect Your Brain

When Dr. Rafael Mechoulam, an Israeli professor of chemistry and laureate of the Emet Prize, first began his study on marijuana in the 1960s, the main problem he faced was legally obtaining the plant for scientific purposes. Since then, many years have passed, and many things have happened. For example, cannabis is currently legal in 23 states, and researchers are well advanced in the study of medical properties and benefits of the cannabis plant.

But Mechoulam was the first man to isolate and synthesize delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (the frightening scientific name of the THC molecule), the best known out of over 60 active ingredients in cannabis.

What Is THC?

Many cannabis patients know this cannabinoid, a greasy yellow substance, as the constituent in marijuana strains responsible for the high. It is true. Moreover, due to its right molecular structure, THC is the only cannabinoid that produces a psychoactive effect. However, the list of its properties does not end with that.

THC is the main active chemical psychoactive compound known as cannabinoid. It is found inside the resin glands, primarily in the bud of the female marijuana plant.

In the world of chemistry, THC is involved in self-defense like most pharmacologically active secondary metabolites: it “defends” the plant from herbivores. It also possesses high UV-B absorption properties and protects the plant from the harmful UV radiation exposure.

THC was one of only three cannabinoids (along with parahexyl and dimethyheptylpyran) listed under Schedule I by the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. In 2003, it was transferred to Schedule IV citing its medical benefits and low abuse potential.

THC and High

When cannabis is smoked, inhaled as a vapor, or taken orally, it interacts with the fundamental nerve signaling system in the body. The binding sites for THC in the human brain were discovered in 1988 by Dr. Allyn Howlett. According to her, THC can attach itself to special cell sites in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory), the cerebellum (responsible for movement), and the frontal cortex (responsible for mental activity).

The binding induces a chemical reaction and causes changes in the brain while directly impacting behavior and cognitive ability.

Another notable effect of THC is rapid release and uptake of the norepinephrine. It intensifies sensations and causes mild euphoria.

How does THC affect the Brain

In 2014, the American Academy of Neurology published a review of the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana that included 34 different studies. According to this review, the high-THC weed strains turned out to be effective in treating certain symptoms of multiples sclerosis, protecting brain cells from damage, and stimulating their growth. What is more, scientists claim that while most drugs suppress the growth of new brain cells, THC can promote it. In the language of science, such process is called neurogenesis.

Marijuana patients in over twenty states use the plant for managing different types of pain. THC is two times more potent than hydrocortisone and has twenty times the anti-inflammatory power of aspirin. But unlike most painkillers, you cannot die from an overdose of THC.

Our Own THC

You already know that THC is used by the body via the endocannabinoid system. Now meet anandamide, the human version of THC.

The name of the molecule is based on the Sanskrit word “ananda” that means “bliss.” Anandamide is the substance that the human body creates naturally. This chemical sharpens the senses of the cannabis consumers and helps them forget.

Its discovery came from the research on CB1 and CB2. The effects of anandamide can occur in either the peripheral or central nervous system. It can help you get rid of side noise in your head and allow to remember only the important facts. This makes the marijuana plant a great medicine for those who suffer distracted attention syndromes.

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