Skip to content

Unraveling the Science Behind THC: Understanding Its Short and Long Term Effects

  • by

Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, is the primary psychoactive compound found in Cannabis sativa (marijuana) plants. It’s responsible for producing the mind-altering effects that have made marijuana one of the most widely used illicit substances worldwide. In recent years, research into cannabis and its active components has gained momentum due to shifting public attitudes towards drug policy reform, leading to an increase in scientific interest in this area. This article will explore the history, science, and current state of knowledge regarding THC.

History of THC
The use of Cannabis sativa dates back thousands of years; ancient Chinese texts dating from around 2737 BCE make reference to it as a medicinal herb. The plant was also used by various cultures throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe over time. However, recreational usage did not become widespread until the 20th century, primarily due to prohibition laws introduced during the early half of the century. These restrictions led to a decrease in scientific study of cannabis as researchers became more hesitant about examining controlled substances under legal scrutiny.

It wasn’t until the mid-1960s when scientists began studying THC in detail. Raphael Mechoulam, a chemist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, isolated THC from hashish samples in 1964. Subsequently, his team synthesized pure THC in 1965, paving the way for further investigation. Their discovery sparked intense curiosity among medical professionals, prompting them to investigate the therapeutic potential of THC for treating various conditions such as nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy or glaucoma-induced eye pressure.

Science behind THC
THC produces its psychological and physiological effects by interacting with specific receptors in our bodies called cannabinoid receptors. Our body naturally produces endocannabinoids which bind to these receptors, helping regulate many functions such as mood, memory, appetite, sleep, pain sensation, and immune system response. Exogenous cannabinoids like THC mimic these natural endocannabinoids but are much stronger. They activate the same receptors, causing a range of altered states depending upon dosage levels.

There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. Most CB1 receptors are located in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are predominantly present in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells. When THC enters the bloodstream through smoking, vaping, ingestion, or other means, it rapidly diffuses across cell membranes and reaches the brain within seconds via the circulatory system. Once there, THC attaches itself to CB1 receptors, initiating signaling cascades that produce both immediate and long-term effects.

Short Term Effects
Initially, THC causes feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pleasure. Users often report heightened senses, increased sensuality, enhanced music appreciation, and improved creativity. There may be some cognitive impairment initially, including short-term memory loss, slowed thinking, and distorted perception. Other side effects include dry mouth, red eyes, and mild anxiety. Higher doses can lead to paranoia, confusion, hallucinations, and psychosis.

Long term Effects
Despite being metabolized relatively quickly – within hours after consumption – THC can produce longer-lasting consequences if consumed frequently. Chronic users may experience tolerance, dependence, withdrawal symptoms, decreased motivation, and worsening mental health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders. Prolonged exposure could potentially result in respiratory problems and cardiovascular risks due to combustible smoke inhalation. Some studies suggest possible links between chronic marijuana use and lower IQ scores and increased risk of developing schizophrenia.

Legal Status & Debates
Marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), meaning that it’s considered a dangerous drug with no accepted medical uses and high abuse potential. Although, several US states and countries such as Canada, Uruguay, and Spain have already implemented policies permitting adult-use marijuana, prescribed cannabis for medical purposes, or decriminalization measures for personal amounts. These moves were driven mainly by changing public opinions and empirical evidence supporting the efficacy of THC for particular conditions.

However, critics argue that we need more conclusive clinical trials before making any major policy changes since the existing data might be skewed by small sample sizes, lack of placebo control groups, confounding variables, and varying definitions of “medical” vs. “non-medical” use. Furthermore, they contend that marijuana is still a psychoactive drug, which alters cognition and behavior, and thus should remain subject to regulation just like alcohol or nicotine products.

In summary, THC is a potent chemical compound found exclusively in Cannabis Sativa, which creates its characteristic psychoactive effects by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the human body. While its legal status remains contentious, ongoing research continues to provide insights into its pharmacology, toxicology, and potential therapeutic applications, indicating that THC merits continued exploration as part of future cannabinoid therapy development efforts.