Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been providing cannabis users with euphoric feelings for thousands of years, but the intense study of this particular cannabinoid and its medicinal benefits is relatively recent. Current information on the ‘little molecule that packs a big punch’ is fascinating, with new studies continuously emerging about its application in treating certain medical conditions. If you are eager to learn more about this wildly effective cannabinoid, we have some enlightening information for you.
What is THC and how does it work?
First isolated by Raphael Mechoulam at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel in 1964, THC is one of the 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis. Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant that naturally bind to the cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. Endocannabinoids are a vast network of signalling chemicals and cell receptor proteins with many functions found in the body. These receptors are heavily concentrated in the central nervous system but can be found in most every organ. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an important role in body functions like appetite regulation, pain regulation and inflammation control.
There are two receptor types, CB1 receptors (discovered in 1988) and CB2 receptors (discovered in 1993). CB1 receptors are mostly found in the areas of the brain that are responsible for mental and physiological processes such as high cognition, memory, emotion and motor coordination. CB2 receptors are found through the central nervous and immune systems. THC mainly binds to CB1 receptors, as they share a similar molecular structure.
So what exactly does that mean? The simple answer is that the cannabinoids found in cannabis bind to the natural cannabinoid receptors in our body to produce euphoric effects, and THC is the cannabinoid to thank for that.
Marijuana flower usually contains 2% – 5% of THC, naturally, but enhanced knowledge about the plant and the science behind it, has given growers the opportunity to change the levels of THC (and other cannabinoids) in specially created strains. THC levels in certain strains of flower can now reach up to 29% THC.
. These strains are extremely potent and are recommended more for experienced users.
Why is THC beneficial?
Cannabis as a whole, has been proven to help the human body in a number of ways. But what about THC specifically? With the studies conducted so far, it has been established that THC plays an important role in providing relief from many conditions.
CB1 receptors are found in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is susceptible to the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease, which has a devastating effect on memory. The Alzheimer’s Society examines how cannabis alleviates certain symptoms of Alzheimer’s, as well as additional studies that show THC may remove amyloid clumps from nerve cells.
They agree that further studies need to be conducted to explore the potential of cannabis’ effects on the disease.
A loss in appetite is a serious issue for many people with chronic illnesses, and lack of nutrients can lead to additional complications. Marijuana is a viable treatment for this problem and is becoming a common recommendation from medical professionals.
Many cannabis users throughout time have found themselves with a case of “the munchies” after inhalation or ingestion, but what exactly causes this reaction and how does it help those with appetite loss?
When the stomach is empty a hormone called ghrelin is released, this hormone tells the brain that the stomach is ready for food. Cannabinoids (THC in particular) have been found to trigger a surge of ghrelin to be released. Cannabis also causes a change in genetic activity in the hypothalamus, the area in the brain that senses ghrelin. This means that not only was the appetite triggered, but the way the brain responded to that information was changed.
The Arthritis Society in Canada has become an advocate for researching the benefits of cannabis for arthritis patients, a condition that affects millions around the world. They write: “Medical cannabis offers a potential alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals for treatment of chronic pain and other symptoms of arthritis.” Interestingly, arthritis patients have been found to have a higher level of CB1 receptors, which allow THC to bind to those receptors, reducing inflammation.
Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) is a horrible side effect of chemotherapy that occurs immediately after the treatment and is typically at its worst 6-24 hours after. THC can alleviate nausea, appetite loss,
and pain and reduce inflammation, which means that cancer patients who use cannabis are able to find relief from possibly debilitating physical symptoms.
Studies conducted have also shown that THC has the ability to induce cell death in certain forms of brain cancers and lung cancer. Although more testing is required to know the extent of cannabinoids effect on tumors and cancer cell growth, this initial find is both promising and exciting.
A Medical News Today article, states that cannabis has been proven to relieve symptoms in Crohn’s disease. A serious inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s can cause pain, appetite loss and fatigue, as well as other symptoms such as chronic constipation or diarrhea. The study found that when treated with a THC/CBD cannabis oil mix, there was improvement in quality of life and significant decrease in symptoms with 65% of patients meeting the “strict criteria” for clinical remission. Cannabis, and THC in particular, has proven to be an anti-inflammatory, but more studies need to be done to see how/if marijuana can reduce inflammation for those with Crohn’s disease. THC is known for being an appetite stimulant and pain reliever, which make it a positive choice to treat some of the symptoms of Crohn’s.
One of the main reasons doctors prescribe medical marijuana is to ease chronic pain. A 2008 article by medical Doctor Ethan Russo gives us information on why THC works for relieving pain, it states, “The ECS [endocannabinoid system] is active throughout the neuraxis, including integrative functions in the periacqueductal gray in the ventroposterolateral nucleus of the thalamus, in which cannabinoids proved to be 10-fold more potent than morphine in wide dynamic range neurons mediating pain.”
For laypeople, this means that when the endocannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and nervous system are activated by THC, the pain relief can be 10 times more potent than from using morphine. The study also says the release of dopamine (the feel-good hormone) caused by THC contributes to pain relief.
A disorder that causes chronic pain in the muscles and bones, Fibromyalgia is a painful condition that also causes fatigue and nausea. In 2018, researchers G. Habib, and S. Artul led research on medical cannabis treatment of fibromyalgia. Their study found that all 26 patients reported “a significant improvement in every parameter on the questionnaire, and 13 patients (50%) stopped taking any other medications for fibromyalgia.” The study goes on to conclude, “Medical cannabis treatment had a significant favourable effect on patients with fibromyalgia, with few adverse effects.”
THC has been proven to help patients with chronic pain find relief for symptoms such as, nausea and chronic fatigue through a balanced THC/CBD ratio strain.
Migraines are severely painful headaches that cause sensitivity to light and sound, sometimes causing nausea and vomiting. The same informational article by author and Doctor, Ethan Russo, discusses how THC can help relieve pain, and that, “THC may affect many mechanisms of the trigeminovascular system in migraines.”
The trigeminovascular system contains neurons in the trigeminovascular nerve that supply cerebral blood vessels. This system is thought to be involved in headaches, including migraines. Those who experience migraines know that most pain relievers are not effective, resulting in the patient taking refuge in a quiet, dark room until the migraine passes. It’s important to know that higher THC cannabis strains have the ability to not only ease the pain, but possibly reduce the frequency of their occurrence.
A study of 121 adult patients with migraines concluded, “The frequency of migraine headache was decreased with medical marijuana use. Prospective studies should be conducted to explore a cause-and-effect relationship and the use of different strains, formulations, and doses of marijuana to better understand the effects of medical marijuana on migraine headache treatment and prophylaxis.”
A study on the effect of medical marijuana in multiple sclerosis and transverse myelitis patients showed that cannabis was an effective tool in providing systematic relief for patients. Using a strain with an even THC/CBD ratio, 77% of patients found it helpful in managing symptoms (especially pain and spasticity) with no negative side effects. A whopping 70% felt that their quality of life improved overall with marijuana use.
The vagas nerve relays sensory information from organs in the abdomen to the central nervous system. When something triggers nausea or vomiting (emesis), the vagas nerve communicates to the brain that emesis should occur. Thankfully, the vagas system and gastrointestinal tract hold cannabinoid receptors that are stimulated by THC, which then inhibits nausea and vomiting. THC has been found by many patients to relieve nausea when other medications have failed.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
A 2017 article from Psychology Today briefly touches on the promising results that cannabis can give those who suffer from PTSD. This article states that participants in a study who took medical marijuana to help treat their PTSD reported, “A decrease in re-experiencing the trauma, less avoidance of situations that reminded them of the trauma and a decline of hyper-arousal.” Evidence begins to show that marijuana with the right CBD to THC ratio can assist with the anxiety, insomnia and even physical pain that can occur with PTSD.
THC is proving its effectiveness in providing relief for many different conditions, as well as assisting patients with other problems such as: depression, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue and insomnia. With each new study that emerges, research reveals other beneficial uses regarding THC and the human body.
There is a large variety of strains and products with different THC levels that will suit the needs of any condition. Newer cannabis users might begin with a smaller dosage of THC and work their way up to a comfortable level that works best for them. Speak with your FireLeaf budtender to discuss which strain and what THC level will work best for you.
*Please note – that although it holds many benefits, marijuana should not be used in place of professional medical help and should be used in addition to prescribed treatment. Never stop taking medications or treatment prescribed by your doctor unless told by your doctor to do so. Consult with your healthcare professional if you have questions on your current treatments and to see if cannabis is right for you.
*Information is not intended to be used as medical advice.