What is THC and How it Affects Your Body

What is THC and How it Affects Your Body

You may already recognize that THC is the active compound inside of cannabis that is responsible for getting you high – or "stoned". This small but mighty compound molecule, also known by its full name Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the reason behind the euphoric intoxication – along with the unpleasant, call-the-police-on-yourself, greenout intoxication.

How does THC work?

With the two experiences above, euphoria or calling your mom, read closely as we clear the smoke and haze on THC. We want to give you insights on how it works inside the human body, and how to get comfortable, pleasant experiences with this widely-enjoyed molecular compound.

According to general scientific understanding (at least as of today), THC works by stepping in for the natural "good feeling" compounds your body naturally produces, known as endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids are "messengers" that produce changes to the chemical signals cells trade with each other.

Many "systems" in your body are affected by endocannabinoids, but the highest concentration is in your central nervous system. Without the central nervous system, you wouldn't be able to feel any "high" from weed. THC rides the wave of your endocannabinoid system, directing the landing zones on cells that your body typically reserves for naturally produced chemicals. What happens when the THC "lands" in these cells? You'll feel a cascade of chemical changes inside your body and brain. These include mood changes, emotion, childhood memory, movement, and even perception of time come from THC's affects on your cells.

How will your body respond?

Everyone's interactions with THC is different. You'll meet some that are hyper focussed and use it to work, others only to relax, and some lose ability to concentrate and vegetate on the couch instead. Feeling relaxed, humorous, upbeat or withdrawn and quiet are perfectly common experiences. Some may have a high tolerance for THC, while others are incredibly sensitive.

Your setting and sober mindset when consuming cannabis are the biggest contributing factors to how your high will progress, but it is also partly genetic. This comes out a lot when anxiety is felt with THC.

These affects are 'acute', which means they only persist while you're high – whether positive or negative. Some commonly reported side effects of cannabis consumption are:

Altered time perception
Slowed motor skills and response time
Dry eyes
Dry mouth

How long am I truly high?

This all depends and is contextual. Your method of cannabis consumption is a key component to the length of your high and how your body consumes THC. Smoking bong can be an intense, short high; vaping cannabis can be a longer, drawn out high; smoking joints can be a combination of the two; and eating edibles, well...these can range from 4 hours to a full day or more depending on how much you eat (dose accordingly). If you're new to smoking cannabis, expect the effects to slightly linger up to 24 hours. When the high has worn off, you may feel drowsier than before. Always plan in advance and accordingly.

What dosage should I consume?

Small amounts of THC go a really long way. Speaking scientifically, biphasic is a term commonly used which means "two phases": your high comes in two parts. Studies suggest these two phases come from the level of THC you consume. In low to moderate dosing, THC will produce the "positive" phases of relieving stress and anxiety. When a high dosage is consumed, you trigger the second "negative" phase, which often does the opposite of why you chose to smoke in the first place. Namely, increased anxiety and paranoia. You'll get the opposite affect if you smoke too much, and in many cases it comes from trial and error. Every body is different, but it is important to reflect and learn from how it affects you.

Some experienced stoners will reference that the ratio of CBD to THC in a strain impacts the high, and more balanced ratios of CBD to THC produce milder, but more controlled highs. Start low, and work your way up.

Should you consume cannabis or smoke weed every day?

When asking this question, think about a typical coffee lover. Someone new to coffee will experience the effects of caffeine almost instantly, but routines and rituals of drinking coffee makes feeling that buzz less and less.

The same process happens with THC. Creating a "tolerance" to THC loses sensitivity to the cannabanoids you're introducing to your body. Your cells will be anticipating and ready for the effects – even reducing the effects that naturally produced cannabanoids in your body feel.

The more you consume, the more you'll feel withdrawal when you stop. Take the coffee drinker example: you don't want to talk with a coffee drinker when they haven't had a cup all morning. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol creates a physical dependency – where you'll feel negative effects throughout your entire body if you consume on a daily basis and stop. Cannabis, on the other hand, works primarily psychologically. You might not get the same caffeine headaches from stopping cannabis, but irritability, loss of sleep, and other psychological conditions may persist. 

If you're ready to consume cannabis more often, but want to stay in control of your dosing, we recommend reading our 6 ways to reduce your weed tolerance.

Health Canada Guidelines indicate that individuals may feel the effects of cannabis 24 hours after consumption. Keep this in mind before driving your car or putting others in harms way.