In the 1960s, a young chemist named Raphael Mechoulam, at the time employed by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, began conducting research on cannabis. Although the high you get when you smoke marijuana had been well-known by society for millennia by then, no one actually understood the chemical processes underlying marijuana. Curious to further understand the plant’s chemical properties, Mechoulam requested a donation from the Israeli police of 5 kilos of Lebanese hash. With this gift in hand, Mechoulam discovered delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive chemical compound in cannabis responsible for getting smokers high, as well as for many of the plant’s medicinal effects.
From that initial discovery THC, research has expanded to uncover other facts, like that THC is one of 85 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. These chemicals bind to the cannabinoid receptors in our our body typically utilized by endocannabinoids, or the THC-esque compounds naturally produced in our body (yup — your body makes THC).
So one question that obviously comes to mind is, why do cannabis plants produce cannabinoids? Although there’s no clear cut answer, one hypothesis that comes to mind is that THC functions as a defense mechanism to fight off pests and predators. The reason for this educated guess is that what researchers do know about cannabinoids is that, given that they are secondary metabolites, they play no main role in the plant’s development. Furthermore, humans and many other animals with endocannabinoid systems—the recurring interaction between our cannabinoid receptors and our body’s naturally-produced endocannabinoids—are all receptive to THC’s effects because cannabinoids are shaped liked endocannabinoids. In other words, they bind to the cannabinoid receptors in brain and immune cells (CB1 and CB2).
While THC plays a role in producing the euphoric buzz of a high, keep in mind that the relationship between the overall smoking experience and a strain’s THC percentage is the same as the relationship between an alcoholic beverage and its ABV percentage. While the chemical compound is responsible for producing a number of effects, like elation, relaxation, and even paranoia or anxiety, there are a number of factors at play, including cannabidiol (or CBD), terpenes, and a number of other cannabinoids.
Although THC is strongly associated with recreational smoking, there is a large body of evidence emphasizing THC’s medicinal effects. Studies have found that THC plays a significant role in reducing cancer tumor rampancy and size. But beyond cancer fighting, THC is a powerful anti-inflammatory, which helps fight against a number of rheumatoid and arthritic conditions, glaucoma, gout, autoimmune diseases, and depression. Furthermore, some medicine also contains either THC or synthetic THC compounds like Sativex, a drug used in assisting patients with multiple sclerosis. These are just a handful of examples showcasing this compound’s far-reaching medical benefits, and new research consistently highlights the far-reaching medical potential of THC.