What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a major chemical component of the cannabis plant and one of 113 currently identified phytocannabinoids, which included cannabidiol (CBD). Full synthesis of THC was completed in 1965, 25 years after CBD and both chemicals have remained the subject of intense scrutiny by the research community.
‘Tetrahydrocannabinol is the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant’
Like CBD, THC acts as a ligand in the human endocannabinoid system; a signalling system with a wide range of physiological functions including regulation of appetite, mood, sleep and pain. THC and CBD are isomers of one another – they have the same chemical formula and thus the same chemical makeup, but their atoms are arranged in a different way.
THC produces it’s effects by binding with the two major receptors of the endocannabinoid system; CB1 expressed primarily in the central nervous system and CB2, expressed mainly on immune cells. Unlike our endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glyceride (2-AG) (which we produce in our bodies as part of this system), THC appears to be less precise when it comes to receptor binding and may bind to a number of other areas in the brain and body including adipose (fat) tissue.
Cannabinoid receptors (CB1) are found in particularly high numbers in certain parts of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. THC attaches to these receptors and activates them and affects a person’s memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception,
THC is also an allosteric modulator of numerous opioid-receptors which we know are very important in the regulation of pain so THC may interfere in pain signalling pathways.
Due to its myriad effects on the brain THC use should not be taken lightly and can come with side effects.
‘In some cases, reported side effects of THC include elation, anxiety, tachycardia, short-term memory recall issues, sedation, relaxation, pain-relief and many more…’
British Journal of Pharmacology 2011 163(7) 1344-1363
Why are our products 0% THC?
The cannabis plant has an abundance of pharmacologically active compounds. Cannabidiol (CBD), for example, is but one of 113 phytocannabinoids already isolated from the plant and there are likely to be many more that we have yet to discover. Although THC does appear to have some therapeutic effects there are three key reasons why our products are carefully produced in order to contain as little THC as possible.
As we mentioned before, tetrahydocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis. THC is presumed to be involved in the plants self-defence mechanisms as it is a natural insecticide and also appears to protect the plant against oxidative damage and environmental stress. However, when consumed by pesky humans, THC is the chemical that gets you ‘high’ or ‘stoned’. While not against the use of marijuana per-se, many of our clients prefer a product that is not psychoactive. In other words, a product that is designed to help ease a range of aliments, not get you high as a kite!
It’s a controlled substance
Although the USA seems to have a had a breakthrough with cannabis legalisation in a number of states, in the UK, THC remains a controlled substance whereas CBD and all other phytocannabinoids are not.
‘The simple fact is, CBD products with over 0.05% THC by volume are illegal in the UK.’
If you purchase a product with a THC concentration above 0.05% then you can be prosecuted with possession of a controlled substance. Our advice? On top of the fact that THC is psychoactive, it’s not worth taking the risk until the law is clear regarding the legalisation of THC.
The “Entourage Effect’ is not a good reason to take THC
The entourage effect describes how the phytocannabinoids of cannabis work synergistically to produce an effect. They supposedly produce an effect greater than the sum of their parts; i.e. if my CBD oil contains THC as well as everything else then it must produce a greater effect overall.
Although CBD is now being investigated for its potential to dampen the psychoactive effects of THC, the entourage effect doesn’t have a solid grounding in science. There is no solid scientific evidence that the entourage effect is a real thing despite it being mentioned so often by the CBD industry.
Emerging evidence suggests terpenes and other phytocannabinoids, which can be found in some high-quality CBD oils (ours for example), have therapeutic qualities of their own and these can be beneficial in a similar way to CBD. What we are specifically pointing out here is that they appear to work additively rather than synergistically.
None of this is to say that THC does not have therapeutic qualities. In fact, some evidence shows that like CBD, THC can be useful in treating chronic pain and preliminary research suggests THC may find use in treating the spasticity and associated pain that results from multiple sclerosis (MS). In the UK, a botanical extract including THC, specifically for use in the treatment of MS, is currently available under the generic name Nabiximol and brand name Sativex, further suggesting therapeutic utility. On top of this, synthetic THC is used as an appetite stimulant for AIDS patients and also as an anti-memetic (prevents nausea) in cancer patients. So, THC certainly has official medical uses but aside from these particular cases, evidence for using THC to successfully treat other diseases, symptoms or ailments remains sparse but promising.
The most important thing to take away from this article is that THC is a controlled substance in the UK, and you may get in trouble for carrying CBD products with THC content. Additionally, you may fail drug tests if you use CBD oil with THC present, even in very small amounts. We have seen time and time again, brands and individuals recommending products that will allow users to pass THC drug tests, but no one can guarantee that. If they are guaranteeing it, take that guarantee with an enormous pinch of salt. Is it worth the risk taking CBD oil with THC present?
Potentially, but considering that the therapeutic profile of CBD appears to dwarf that of THC (based on current evidence) and THC is illegal above small thresholds, you are probably better sticking with CBD unless a doctor suggests you incorporate THC into your medications and can receive it on prescription.
Interested in other hemp-derived molecules?
Check out our What is CBD? article and our What is CBG? article.
I have written a short but more in depth article about CBD and the wider Endocannabinoid System here.