What is THC?

What is THC?

Cannabis contains approximately 60 different psychoactive chemicals called cannabinoids. Of these THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most important one. THC is the chemical responsible for most of the psychological effects of cannabis. An individual’s behaviour is changed when THC binds onto the receptors of nerve cells in certain parts on the brain.

THC affects the areas of the brain that are most commonly linked to memory, time perception, thinking, coordination and pleasure. The stimulation of THC causes dopamine to be released by the brain, creating euphoria. At the same time, the hippocampus, the part of the brain charged with creating new memories, is also affected by the interference of THC.

Many people experience a pleasurable state of relaxation when using cannabis. THC works to increase the sensory experiences of taste, sound and colour.

The effects of THC normally last for a couple of hours, normally starting within 10 to 30 minutes of ingestion.

Hallucinations, changed thinking and delusions can all be caused by THC. Even when the “high” has subsided, psychomotor impairment may still occur.

These effects of cannabis  make it a popular drug. In fact, Cannabis is the most widely-used of the illegal drugs of abuse in the UK. However, the effects of the drug on long-term mental are a concern to many.

There is increased evidence that individuals with serious mental illnesses, such as  depression and psychosis, are more likely to  be cannabis users or to have tried it for extended periods of time in the past.

THC and impaired motor skills

Driving under the influence of THC is a growing problem. After alcohol, THC is the  second-most commonly used psychoactive substance that is found in drivers. This type of activity is referred to a “drug driving” and is highly dangerous as THC severely impairs motor skills. It is generally accepted that cannabis may impair driving or similar tasks for approximately three hours after consumption.

How much THC is present in Cannabis?

The amount of THC present in Cannabis will affect its potency. When Cannabis is cultivated as hemp, the amount of THC present is minimal, as little as less than 1 per cent. Naturally in the cannabis plant itself, the amount of THC ranges from 0.5–3%. In resin, the most commonly seen form of the drug in the UK, it is generally accepted that THC levels range from 5%-15%.

As stronger strains of cannabis have developed, the levels of THC have increased. A type of cannabis known as “skunk” , for example, has been recorded as having 2-3 times more THC than standard cannabis.

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  • This Zoom Testing post has been updated since its original publication in 2014.