What is THC? THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the most (if not the most) widely recognized major cannabinoids contained within the cannabis plant species. It is the molecule that is responsible for making people feel ‘high’ after smoking or ingesting marijuana. Due to the psychoactive nature of THC, it is illegal in most regions of the world. That being said, there has been a lot of movement towards decriminalization of this compound within the last ten or so years within the United States.
THC, double bond isomers, and their stereoisomers, actually falls under a category of cannabinoids listed by the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (click here for full pdf). There are currently two other compounds that fall under this category: dimethylheptylpyran (DMT) and parahexyl (a synthetic homologue of THC). THC was classified as a Schedule I substance in 1971 under this UN Convention, but reclassified to Schedule II twenty years later in 1991.
How Does THC Work?
THC works as a result from its partial agonist function at the CB1 cannabinoid receptor (Ki = 10 nM), located mostly in the CNS (central nervous system), and the CB2 receptor (Ki = 24 nM), typically found in cells of our immune system. Psychoactive effects that it is responsible for are regulated by the activation of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), which result in a decrease in the levels of a second communication molecule known as ‘cyclic adenosine monophosphate’ through attempted blocking of adenylate cyclase.
Interesting Fact: WHO has put the recommendation forward to change THC to schedule III, which is a much less-strict scheduled substance regulation. It is still classified as a Schedule I substance by US federal law under what’s called the Controlled Substances Act for having “no accepted medical use” and “lack of accepted safety”. Interestingly, dronabinol, a pharmaceutical form of tetrahydrocannabinol, has been approved by the FDA as an appetite stimulant for people suffered from AIDS and an anti-nausea medication for people undergoing cancer treatment via chemotherapy. The trade names of these drugs are Marinol and Syndros.
World Health Organization
UN Convention of Psychotropic Substances