People have been analyzing, researching, testing, and debating the health benefits of THC ever since this beloved psychoactive cannabinoid was discovered in 1964. Fast-forward almost 60 years, and we now have an impressive and growing body of research that provides more than a few insights (and also more than a few lingering questions).
So, what are the health effects of THC? And can we depend on a future in which THC-based preparations replace some conventional pharmaceuticals? Let’s find out.
The Basic Science of THC
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9 THC, is the main active compound in cannabis, one of more than 100 cannabinoids. It’s perhaps best known as the primary psychotropic compound that gets users high. But THC is more than just the fun cannabinoid. Researchers have also uncovered a lot of potential health benefits of THC.
The Endocannabinoid System
THC’s effects are all tied to the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is the system of molecules, receptors, and enzymes that respond to cannabis compounds.
Even if you never touch cannabis, your endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in regulating certain functions in the body, including mood, appetite, sleep, pain regulation, and even sexual function. When you consume cannabis, the cannabinoids influence how your ECS behaves. This is where the health effects of THC come into play.
THC and the ECS
When the cannabinoids enter your bloodstream, they trigger the cannabinoid receptors that are part of your ECS. There are two known subtypes of cannabis receptors: cannabis receptor type 1 (CB1) and cannabis receptor type 2 (CB2).
Different cannabinoids interact with these receptors in different ways. THC can actually bind to these receptors and activate them, potentially triggering the kinds of internal processes that the ECS is responsible for regulating. It’s like supercharging your endocannabinoid system so that you can experience certain physical and physiological benefits to a greater extent.
Interpreting the Research Regarding the Health Benefits of THC
It’s important to emphasize that we still don’t understand much about the endocannabinoid system. It wasn’t even discovered until 1988, and scientists are still trying to uncover why it behaves the way it does, and its specific role in regulating immunity and other critical functions.
So when we talk about the health benefits of THC, we’re simply commenting on the current state of the research—much of which is correlation-based, limited by small sample sizes, and otherwise controversial.
With that in mind, none of the information in this article should be taken as health or medical advice. Many people have experienced enormous personal benefits as a result of THC consumption, and we hope that this information helps you better understand the possible reasons for these benefits. However, more research is still needed in many of these areas.
5 Possible Health Benefits of THC
Research into the health effects of THC is ongoing. Researchers are examining the role of THC in areas as diverse as cancer tumor shrinkage, appetite management, glaucoma, and even physical fitness. For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on five of the most intriguing and heavily researched areas.
1. Immune Health
Immune health has long been a major topic among THC researchers. What’s notable is that both CB1 and CB2 receptors have been found in immune cells, signaling a very strong correlation between the endocannabinoid system and the immune system. In fact, CB2 receptors are predominantly found in cells located in the immune system.
Studies involving mice have helped researchers better understand the mechanisms involved, although we still have a lot to learn about the specific role that cannabis plays in immune function. Overall, though, THC may be beneficial in helping to fend off certain germs, viruses, and diseases.
2. Inflammation Relief
Inflammation and pain have likewise been at the center of THC research.
The aforementioned clinical review found that cannabinoids—and THC in particular—help to influence key cells and proteins in a way that suppresses inflammatory responses in the body. This may result in less pain and inflammation, with strong implications for chronic pain sufferers, people with arthritis, and individuals with other inflammatory conditions.
But managing inflammation isn’t simply a matter of short-term comfort; it’s essential for long-term health. Studies have shown that chronic inflammation can lead to a wide array of health problems, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. So keeping inflammation under control should be a priority for everyone.
3. Better Sleep
A lot of people use cannabis to help them sleep, and research shows that there may be a clinical basis for this trend. Consider one 2008 German study, which concluded that “acute administration of cannabis appears to facilitate falling asleep and increase Stage 4 sleep” (the deepest level of sleep).
For people who have frequent insomnia, this may be another major health benefit of THC. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a host of adverse health conditions, including weakened immunity, high blood pressure, weight gain, and an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
4. Reduced Nausea and Vomiting
Cannabis—and cannabis-based treatments—are often given to cancer patients to address the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. In a 2001 clinical study published in the BMJ, patients reported cannabis to be more effective than conventional nausea medication for addressing nausea symptoms.
The reason for this effect may be related to the CB1 receptor. When THC activates CB1, it appears to neutralize the GABA increase that triggers nausea. Incidents of vomiting are reduced as well. These health benefits of THC may extend to all nausea sufferers, not just cancer patients.
5. Reduced Stress
Many people turn to cannabis for stress relief. And it appears that THC may help to inhibit the production of major stress hormones like cortisol. Fewer stress hormones equate to less stress, although the mechanisms are a bit complicated.
When it comes to stress reduction, in particular, the specific strain may play a role. For instance, strong sativas might increase anxiety as they’re known to promote heightened awareness. Most savvy budtenders recommend indicas for people seeking stress relief.
The dosage can also play a role. While low doses might help you manage stress, high doses might make stress worse.
Related Article: How to Use Cannabis Concentrates
How to Unlock the Health Benefits of THC
While the specific health effects of THC may be up for debate, they’re definitely worth exploring. Consider that 37 U.S. states recognize the medicinal value of cannabis and allow qualifying patients to access THC—whether or not there’s a recreational program in that state.
If you want to discover the health benefits of THC for yourself, there are a few best practices you’ll want to follow:
Know Your Limits
While cannabis concentrates and edibles are great for experienced users, they can be overwhelming for beginners—with side effects that more than offset any benefits. If you’re new to the 420 world, it’s best to start with something simple, like cannabis prerolls or tinctures.
And start with small doses. As little as 5 to 10mg of THC should do the trick.
Know Your Strain
Not every strain is ideal for every purpose. Different strains have different cannabinoid and terpene concentrations, and indicas affect the brain differently from sativas. If your goal is to address inflammation, stress, sleep difficulties, or any common condition, make sure the strain is helpful for that purpose.
Talk to your cannabis doctor or your budtender. Sites like Leafly can also be helpful.
Know Your Body
Everyone responds differently to THC, so listen to your body and adjust accordingly. If you notice strong side effects (or no effects at all), adjust your dosage accordingly. If you get some effects but not the desired results, consider exploring a different strain or cultivar. There are countless options available.
Know Your Drug Interactions
THC is known to interact with over 400 common prescription drugs. It can interact with warfarin, clobazam, clozapine, and central nervous system depressants, just to name a few examples. If you’re on any prescription drugs, speak to your doctor before exploring the health effects of THC. Some drug interactions can be serious.
Related Article: The Health Benefits of Cannabis
Discover the Health Benefits of THC with CanEx
It’s likely that researchers will continue to debate the health benefits of THC for decades to come. But you don’t have to wait for a global consensus to discover the benefits for yourself.
See how THC affects you, and decide if it’s worth incorporating into your wellness lifestyle. Legal cannabis is now more accessible than ever in more states. In some states, you can even get it delivered straight to your home (our own California cannabis delivery service is one of the hottest things in SoCal right now).
We’re not saying that THC is the answer to all of your health woes, but it just might serve a valuable purpose beyond “getting baked.” If you live in SoCal, shop our cannabis products to discover the health benefits of THC for yourself.