What Is THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)?
What is THC? This unique compound, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, gives your favorite herb its power and potency. In words, it’s the most chemical that creates a high. But how much THC is in weed strains, do different strains contain different amounts? And how long does it stay in urine? Whether you’re new to THC or want to deepen your #420 wisdom (do you know about THCA, for example?), keep reading.
The following is meant for educational purposes. It is not intended as medical advice or for anyone under the age of 21.
What Is THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol?
It’s the active compound, known as a cannabinoid, in cannabis and hemp (more on that later) that produces psychological effects. This is a fancy term for produces a high, though THC benefits extend far beyond that. This cannabinoid, like CBD and CBG, terpenes and other cannabinoids, comes from the resin produced by a plant’s trichomes.
Tetrahydrocannabinol can be found in any form of cannabis that produces a high. This includes flower, oils, concentrates, capsules, and edibles. Hemp products, like CBD flower, edibles, and tinctures, can contain up to 0.3% THC. This is the maximum put forth by the U.S. government and not enough to produce a high.
How Much THC Is in Weed?
The short answer is: it depends. The long answer is that different strains and forms of cannabis contain different concentrations. As a basic rule of thumb, a strain that is “high in THC” contains 15% or above.
A medium strain will contain between 10% and the low teens. A strain considered very high will be above 20%. A low strain will be below 10%.
What Is Considered a High Amount of THC?
When it comes to dry herb cannabis, here are some rough estimates to keep in mind:
- Wicked High: 20%+
- High THC: 15-20%
- Medium: 10-14%
- Low: up to 10%
What Is the Highest THC Strain?
There is a lot of debate over what the highest THC strain is. Keep in mind that plants are organic, meaning that they can be bred differently (and contain different compounds). Additionally, old herb will be less potent – as will improperly trimmed, stored or ground herb (check out the best weed grinders to avoid this). Bearing that in mind, here are a few of the highest THC strains we know of:
- Silver Haze
- Laughing Buddha
- Godfather OG
- Memory Loss
- Irish Cream
- Lemon Merengue
As cultivators perfect their craft, strains get stronger and stronger every year. The strongest THC strain next year may be a hybrid of a few of these strains, or a different one altogether.
Fun Fact: Sativa strains do not necessarily have more THC than Indica strains. Some argue that the indica vs sativa dichotomy is outdated.
‘High’ Means Different Things for Different People
This does NOT mean that smoking a joint means ingesting 22% of that strain’s THC content. According to research, smoking a joint, bowl or silicone bong results in losing up to 63% of THC content. Note that bongs are typically more potent than joints (especially when they’re engineered for that, like Hydroponique). This is also because bongs do not over-heat your herb, which lowers the amount of bioavailable (i.e. ingestible) THC.
Keep in mind that everyone’s tolerance for tetrahydrocannabinol is different. Habitual smokers will almost certainly not feel THC effects the same way a beginner will. Beyond that, THC strength is impacted by hormones, such as cortisol, according to this Physiopharmacology study.
Concentrates Have More Tetrahydrocannabinol (Hence Their Name). Here's Why.
Dry herb is not the form of cannabis with the highest amount of this revolutionary compound. Dabs, or cannabis concentrates, got their name because they contain more tetrahydrocannabinol. Keep in mind that most concentrates are homemade, meaning that they are not lab tested and can contain inconsistent amounts of cannabinoids.
What that in mind, here are a few rough figures for THC content:
- Butane Hash Oil (BHO) including wax, shatter, honeycomb, crumble, honey oil: approximately 60-90%
- Live Resin: approximately 80-90%
Finding the THC oil with the most tetrahydrocannabinol should not be the #1 thing on your to-do list. Most dabbing experts say that terpene content – which affects the flavor and effects of your concentrate – matters much more than how much tetrahydrocannabinol is in it. In other words, a BHO with 90% will (most likely) be less flavorful than one with a lower percentage that focuses more on terpenes.
Warning: Dabbing can be dangerous and overwhelming. Not only should you NOT try to make your own dabs, but beginners may be overwhelmed and have a negative experience. Speaking with a budtender is a great idea.
Is There Such a Thing as Pure THC?
Not yet, but you can find some concentrates that clock in over 90% tetrahydrocannabinol. This may be at the expense of terpenes, however.
Though you may only know tetrahydrocannabinol by name, there are other active compounds in cannabis besides it and CBD. The research on weed is preliminary due to its restricted legal status, meaning that we have a lot left to learn.
THC vs CBD: What’s the Difference?
These are the two best-research cannabinoids. And though they exist side-by-side, they produce distinct effects and may have their own unique benefits.
6 Things that CBD and THC Have in Common:
- They are naturally-occurring cannabinoids.
- Hemp and cannabis (two legally distinct but genetically similar plants) produce them.
- Cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (more on that later).
- They have the same molecular structure: 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms.
- They may both help with pain management, according to research. Note that studies on the effectiveness and the ideal combination of these cannabinoids contradict one another.
- There are pharmaceutical medications that include both of these compounds, notably Sativex, produced for people suffering from multiple sclerosis.
5 Differences Between Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol:THC vs CBD is a commonly-made contrast. Here’s why:
- Effect: THC produces psychoactive effects, i.e. makes you feel high. CBD is “non-psychoactive,” meaning that it will not make someone feel high and is safe to use throughout the day.
- Legality: CBD is legal in all 50 states, hence the prevalence of CBD oil, edibles, and dry herb. Tetrahydrocannabinol is only legal in states with recreational cannabis.
- Origin: Though hemp can contain a maximum amount of 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, this is not enough to produce psychoactive effects. All legal CBD comes from hemp, not cannabis.
- Molecule structure: Though they are made up of the same components, CBD and THC have differently arranged molecules. This explains their distinct effects.
- Interaction with the human body: Though we are still trying to figure out how exactly both these cannabinoids work, some research suggests that CBD does not bind to cannabinoid receptors as tetrahydrocannabinol does. In fact, it may influence these bindings instead.
The biggest difference is how people use these compounds. Some may enjoy tetrahydrocannabinol recreationally or for its pain-moderating effects, especially for serious conditions such as cancer or HIV. Though CBD may be used for pain, it is best known for its ability to relax, alleviate seizures even in treatment-resistant cases, and for being safe to use throughout the day (unlike potent cannabis).
Yet again, research on cannabinoids is just beginning. There is a lot we have to learn about how these compounds interact with each other and by themselves.
Does CBD Oil Have THC?
It depends on the type. Full-spectrum hemp tinctures are known to contain 0.3% THC, which is not enough to produce a high. They are also thought to be more effective due to the “entourage effect.” This means that cannabis compounds are more effective when they exist side-by-side, just as they would naturally in the plant.
CBD isolate does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol. It is obtained through a different process so as to “isolate” the compound.
THC Benefits & Effects
The effect that everyone knows about is the high. But did you know that some people may use the compound to reduce:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite
- Muscle spasticity
Some of these effects are well-researched or common. Others are relatively new or hotly debated in the scientific community. This information is not medical advice so please speak with a doctor if you suffer from a condition you want to treat.
Some temporary effects may include:
- Red or bloodshot eyes
- Memory loss
- Lowering blood pressure
- Affected motor skills and coordination
- Heightened senses
Effects depend on the strain, the amount and the endocannabinoid system of the person ingesting it (more on the science later). Smoking weed is a personal choice.
THC for Pain
The use of tetrahydrocannabinol medically and medicinally for pain is well-documented. In fact, medical marijuana is legal in some form in 33 states, though some restrict THC content.
During the AIDS epidemic, cannabis was frequently used to cope with the pain, nausea, and decreased appetite, now the subject of research. For severe and brief pain, stronger medications are often prescribed, but some who suffer from chronic pain prefer to use cannabis because it does not produce the same negative effects (decreased effectiveness and addition being two of them) that opioids produce.
The conditions for which medical marijuana can be prescribed vary state-to-state. In New York State the following life-threatening or debilitating conditions may quality:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)
- Huntington's Disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Chronic pain
- HIV or AIDS
- Seizures or muscle spasms
Why does Tetrahydrocannabinol Have Benefits in the First Place?
We’ve spent a lot of time exploring what effects this compound can produce, where it comes from, and how it differs from other cannabinoids. But, from a scientific perspective, why does THC have benefits and effects at all?
The Endocannabinoid System, Explained
Tetrahydrocannabinol interacts with a biological network called the endocannabinoid system. Notice that THC is a “cannabinoid” and this system is called “endo-cannabinoid,” meaning inner cannabinoid? That is because research on weed led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.
The short explanation is that the human body produces its own cannabinoids, similar to THC and CBD. These endocannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid receptors to produce a variety of crucial effects. Though as important as the respiratory, skeletal and muscular systems, for example, the endocannabinoid system is much less researched because it was the last of the important biological networks discovered.
The endocannabinoid system can affect (among other processes):
- Pain sensitivity
- Immune response
That’s why cannabinoids may produce such strong effects on the human body: We are built to interact with them, just as we would our own cannabinoids. This is also why THC can stay in your system for such a long time.