What is THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)?

thc formula

Tetrahydrocannabinol, in short THC, is one of the naturally occurring phytocannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant, known for its psychoactive properties. But, besides the controversies surrounding THC, this article would like to throw light on some additional facts about THC. That could help you to become conscious consumers.

According to studies, phytocannabinoids represent a group of terpene phenolic compounds, predominantly found in Cannabis (as of the current availability of knowledge). But, research on non-cannabis sources of cannabinoids is still a work in progress, for example, plants such as Radula and Helichrysum genus.

Therefore, let us understand two simple facts here:

– Cannabis is not the only organism capable of synthesizing this group of bioactive natural products.

Studies report that there are 525 natural compounds out of which 85 identified, and around 60 of them familiar.

That brings us to the point that THC and CBD are examples of the two natural cannabinoids purified from Cannabis plants and used in diverse applications.

Moreover, it is motivating that several studies are focussing on individual cannabinoid compounds that help us discover more about CBD.

Therefore, I am sure by now you are familiar with the term THC, the compound responsible for the psychoactive effect. But, there is more to know.

In a nutshell, this article would help you gain a little more insight in to:

  • What is THC?
  • Where is THC found in the cannabis plant?
  • THC Vs CBD

Let’s dive right in.

What is THC?

Are you still in the mindset that THC is something dangerous that could turn you crazy?! Well, then you have bumped into the right spot. Do make use of this opportunity that could help you break free from stereotypical thinking.

Shall we begin with refreshing some primary school science lessons?!

‘The Food Chain’

Plants, animals, insects, and we humans have been co-existing for millions of years and depend on each other for survival, ‘food’

At the same time, every living being in the food chain possesses distinct strategies to protect themselves from each other. Just visualize the food chain.

Consequently, in the battle of life between man, animals, plants, and insects, animals run away or excrete poisonous chemicals ( like the skunk) to protect or stay away from predators. When it comes to plants, they produce toxic substances that could protect them from insects or herbivores.

That said, one such example is THC in Cannabis plants. Studies refer to the role of THC in Cannabis is that it seems to protect the plant from herbivores or pathogens. There exists an army of insects, tiny friends, and animals who love the taste of Cannabis who can gulp down a whole crop. For example, deer, mice, rats, spider mites, whiteflies, caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, and so on.

An interesting observation from a study on plant defense mechanisms illustrates this further. Plants produce specialized morphological structures or secondary metabolites.

For example, mechanical protection on the surface of the plants like hair, trichomes, thorns, spines, or production of chemicals such as terpenoids, alkaloids, releasing volatile chemicals, etc. This kind of protection either kills or retards the herbivores.

Therefore, this reference clearly emphasizes the need for a multidisciplinary approach to study and conduct research that could connect biochemistry, ecological processes, and even climate change. After all, this knowledge could be beneficial in developing new optimized solutions for better crop yield.

In short,

Where is THC found in the Cannabis Plant?

THC is found in the trichomes of the Cannabis plant.

Trichomes are hair-like structures found on the surface of the plant. Its head resembles a tiny bulb or a water droplet connected to a stalk. The size, shape, density, and type of the trichomes could vary depending on various natural factors like soil, temperature, other vegetation, etc. It predominantly functions as a self-defense mechanism as discussed above.

Trichomes in cannabis

Studies assert that these trichomes contain abundant cannabinoids. A particular type called Capitate stalked trichomes (large) contains tetrahydrocannabinol acid ( THCA), cannabidiolic acid ( CBDA), cannabigerolic acid ( CBGA) including their decarboxylated derivatives Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, cannabidiol, CBD, and cannabigerol, CBG.


Firstly, cannabinoids are synthesized and accumulated as cannabinoid acids in the plant. Only when the plant is dried, stored, and heated, the acids gradually decarboxylize and gets converted to CBD or THC.

In the same vein, it is noteworthy to mention that although both CBD, THC, CBG, CBN, and other cannabinoids are present in the cannabis plant, its biosynthesis occurs according to a genetically determined ratio. So, cannabis growers and research institutions grow different varieties for a multitude of purposes. For example, paper, textiles, food, medicine, etc.

Secondly, THC and CBD share the same molecular formula C21H30O2.

That is twenty-one atoms of carbon, thirty atoms of hydrogen, and two atoms of oxygen. But the arrangement of these atoms is different and interact with the body differently.

THC chemical structure CBD chemical structure

THC produces (according to dosage) hypoactivity, hypothermia, spatial, and verbal short-term memory impairment. But CBD does not affect locomotor activity, body temperature, or memory on its own. Thus, CBD and THC have almost different and opposing effects.

For example, a reference to a double-blind study illustrates this more clearly. Forty healthy volunteers were orally administered THC, CBD, and the mixture of the two together. While their psychological reactions, pulse rate, and time production tasks got measured. The experiment revealed the following results,

  • Volunteers administered with THC alone exhibited an increased pulse rate, disturbed time tasks, and vigorous psychological reactions.
  • Volunteers who consumed CBD alone provoked no such effects.
  • CBD efficiently blocked most of the effects of THC, in volunteers who were administered with THC and CBD together. Also, CBD tended to decrease their anxiety.

In sum,

  • Both CBD and THC interact with the endocannabinoid system. But their interactions with the receptors ( CB1 & CB2) have different influences on the physiological and brain functions.
  • THC stimulates the CB1 receptors. It is a partial agonist of CB1 and CB2 receptors. impacting memory, concentration, and coordination, and leaves a euphoric effect. THC is a partial agonist at CB1 and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2)
  • CBD alters the shape of the CB1 receptors, stopping THC or CB1 agonists to stimulate the receptor. That is why CBD does not produce psychotropic effects. It interacts with other receptors that connect with pain, inflammation, anxiety, and inhibits it.


  • Marijuana is a particular variety of cannabis that contains a high amount of THC. The US law classifies yet another variation that contains less THC as Industrial hemp.
  • THC produces most of the classical pharmacological effects that include changes in mood, perception, and motivation.
  • The discovery of the two most important compounds of Cannabis, THC, and CBD led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.
  • The role of THC in Cannabis is that it seems to protect the plant from herbivores or pathogens.
  • Capitate stalked trichomes contain abundant cannabinoids. They include THCA, CBDA, CBGA, and their decarboxylated derivatives THC, CBD, and CBG.

As a conclusive note, socio-economic, environmental, and ecological factors are significantly impacting public health in global economies. There are novel approaches and discovery of new medicines for emerging infectious diseases, metabolic disorders, and many other health problems.

There is a modern approach to traditional medicine and values. New opportunities are opening up in the fields of psychopharmacology, endocannabinoid systems, and medical cannabis.

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