What is THC & How It Interacts With The Endocannabinoid System?


In the marijuana plant, there are more than 100 cannabinoids. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main intoxicating cannabinoid, which is responsible for causing euphoric effects.

The federal regulations say marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance, its consumption in any form is illegal in the United States.

But, medical and recreational cannabis legalization has helped patients across the country determine the effects of the plant on the body.

What is THC?

THC is a chemical compound, which is responsible for causing most of the plant’s psychoactive effects. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), it acts like the cannabinoids that are naturally produced in the body.

In the brain, there exists a wide range of cannabinoid receptors in different areas associated with pleasure, memory, mood, coordination, etc. THC binds to these receptors, thus regulating the consumer’s movements, thinking, pleasure, mood, and memory.

What is Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

The Endocannabinoid System is a biological system, which plays an important role in regulating a wide range of functions. These include sleep, mood, appetite, memory, and reproduction & fertility. The ECS contains the three major components-


Also called endogenous cannabinoids, endocannabinoids are molecules produced in the body. They are similar to cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant.

Researchers have found two important endocannabinoids-

  1. Anandamide (AEA)
  2. 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)

Endocannabinoids keep the internal functions run properly, and the body produces them when required.

Endocannabinoid Receptors

Endocannabinoids bind to the receptors called endocannabinoid receptors for controlling different functions. The two main endocannabinoid receptors are- CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors.


Enzymes help in breaking down endocannabinoids after they perform their functions. The major enzymes are-

  • Fatty acid amide hydrolase – for breaking AEA
  • Monoacylglycerol acid lipase – for breaking 2-AG

How Does THC Interact With Endocannabinoid System?

THC acts as an activator of cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain. For patients who have blocked CB1 receptors by some other drugs, marijuana won’t deliver high effects. Thus, CB1 receptors are the major targets in the brain for producing intoxication.

A study published in the National Institute of Health shows that during THC intoxication, the blood flow to the brain’s prefrontal cortex region is increased. Prefrontal Cortex is responsible for attention, decision-making, and other functions such as motor skills.

Additionally, cannabis intoxication can help in activating the reward circuitry of the brain, which controls the emotional and memory processes. The activation of these regions leads to producing pleasurable sensations and emotions, which help in boosting mood and stimulating the appetite. In other words, you will feel like eating your favorite foods and don’t shy asking your mate for a date.

The chemical structure of THC is similar to that of anandamide, thus the former can help in altering brain communication. Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that helps in sending signals between nerve cells.

Marinol, a synthetic form of THC, is a good appetite stimulant and is available since the 1980s. “When you just stimulate the CB1 receptors with this pure molecule, it’s very intoxicating and patients don’t tolerate it very well, “ says Adie Wilson-Poe, a research instructor at the WashU School of Medicine.

However, giving patients a drug such as Sativex help them get better effects. The drug is a mix of THC and CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Wilson-Poe says, “We specifically see that CBD protects against the paranoia and anxiety and racing heart that THC produces.”

CBD helps in enhancing the THC effects. For example, it is effective in promoting THC-induced pain relief. THC is a neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory antioxidant, which works for activating CB1 receptors in the brain’s pain-control regions.

Moreover, how THC is delivered to the body also influences its effects on the body. Smoking and vaping help you get THC into your bloodstream instantly, thus producing psychoactive effects within a few seconds. It takes about 30 minutes for the THC level to peak, and the effects usually last for 1-3 hours. Edibles take longer to kick in, and their effects last longer as well.

To sum up, THC is one of the major cannabinoids in the marijuana plant, which produces psychoactive effects. It’s similar to endocannabinoids, which are produced naturally in the body. THC binds to CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), thus altering various bodily functions. Medical researchers have found that THC intoxication leads to increasing the blood flow in the brain’s prefrontal cortex region that controls decision-making, attention, and motor skills.

CBD, a non-psychoactive compound, can help in enhancing the THC effects on the body. So, for alleviating your symptoms completely, make sure you choose the right strains with optimal levels of THC and CBD. Marijuana is one of the safest intoxicating substances, which can help in treating a wide range of medical conditions. It’s legal in 33 US states currently. To access cannabis products from medical dispensaries, you need to talk to medical marijuana doctors to apply for 420 med evaluations.



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