The Side Effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)


THC, known scientifically as tetrahydrocannabinol, is a naturally occurring component within the cannabis plant. In a broad sense, there are two distinct cultivars of cannabis: marijuana and hemp. Apart from appearance, a key difference between these two plants is that marijuana often contains high amounts of THC. Hemp, on the other hand, contains a negligible THC content of 0.3% or less by dry weight.

There are many scientific studies linking tetrahydrocannabinol with medicinal use. At the same time, the compound does have the potential to impact some individuals adversely. In this article we discuss the possible negative side effects of THC in further detail. Medical marijuana is tremendously beneficial for many individuals, but high-THC products are certainly not for everyone.

Keep reading to discover more about THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and its potential side effects…

Before We Discuss the Side Effects of THC, Let’s Discuss What Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Even Is

As mentioned earlier, THC a.k.a. tetrahydrocannabinol is a naturally occurring cannabinoid within the marijuana plant. It is present in varying amounts depending on the specific strain that it comes from. Also, specific methods of extraction can affect the THC content of products like cannabis oils and concentrates.

Strong marijuana strains typically will contain around 15-25% THC. Concentrated oils and extracts (i.e. things like shatters, wax, etc) can contain robust THC levels of 90% or more. There are even some types of shatter that claim to contain a 98% THC content. Of course, products like these are not often available on the market.

THC questions and answers

DID YOU KNOW? There are over 80 unique cannabinoids in the Cannabis sativa L. plant.

Aside from THC, marijuana also includes other cannabinoids. In fact, over 80 unique cannabinoids exist in the Cannabis sativa L. plant. Each strain will vary in terms of its specific cannabinoid profile and THC percentage. The two most popular and most discussed cannabinoids, of course, are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

Unlike CBD, THC is a psychoactive compound. This is the reason why the consumption of marijuana often leads to a mind-altering high. On a scientific level, the psychoactive impact of THC manifests in the form of an altered perception and skewed sensory awareness.

How Does THC Work Within the Body/Brain?

Every individual has an important system within their body known as the endocannabinoid system. This system is present within the brain and central nervous system, as well as many peripheral parts of the body. The ECS is responsible for regulating vital internal processes, including those that help maintain balance and homeostasis. For instance, the ECS appears to influence things lie sleep cycle regulation, appetite, mood, immune response, and even pain sensation.

THC works in part by binding to receptors in the body called CB1 receptors. When interacting with CB1 in the central nervous system, THC impacts communication between brain signals and different parts of the body. This is why THC produces psychoactive effects like slowed reaction time, altered perceptions of time, and more.

Of course, the medicinal elements of THC can work to encourage certain processes within the body to increase productivity. For example, THC is used by many to help improve sleep regulation (particularly among those with insomnia). It is also commonly used to help increase appetite in terminally ill patients and lower the sensation of nausea. For these reasons, high-THC cannabis products have proven beneficial for many individuals that suffer from things like anorexia and eating disorders. And of course, THC is also often commonly used to help manage pain (even at a chronic or more serious level).

All in all, there’s no denying that THC has the potential to help improve a variety of medical conditions and ailments, as well as general day-to-day discomforts.

What Medical Conditions Can THC Assist With?

Each cannabis strain is different in terms of its THC content and specific cannabinoid profile. As medical marijuana continues to gain traction across the U.S., many states are adopting a list of specific medical conditions that patients can use to determine whether they qualify for an MMJ card. Some of the common qualifying conditions for medical marijuana include:

  • Nausea / Lack of appetite
  • Chronic pain
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • ALS
  • PTSD
  • Muscle spasms

The list of course extends much further than just these conditions. And while cannabis – especially high THC varieties – do have the potential to help patients tremendously, it is not without its list of side effects.

The Potential Side Effects of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)

Some states that offer legal medical marijuana programs do discuss the possibility of side effects from THC and medical cannabis products. In fact, THC can produce a number of potential side effects which will vary depending on the specific strain type and method of consumption.

Here is a list (and an explanation) of some of the most common THC side effects:

1. Dry Mouth/Cotton Mouth

It goes by different names- whether referred to as dry mouth or cottonmouth, these synonymous symptoms are due to the lack of production of saliva, which can be uncomfortable or unpleasant for some. Thankfully, this is one of the most manageable of THC’s adverse effects.

With a little extra preparation and planning, dealing with cotton mouth can be a breeze. Be sure to drink plenty of hydrating fluids before, during and after your THC consumption. Staying hydrated not only brings more saliva to the mouth, it also decreases your chances of dehydration, headaches and any grogginess the next day.

2. Dry Eyes/Itchy Eyes/Red Eyes

Another one of the more commonly occurring negative side effects of THC, dry, itchy or red eyes can be uncomfortable, but it’s not debilitating, and these are quite easily manageable by purchasing moisturizing eye drops from your local drug store or pharmacy and applying them when you feel this discomfort arising. These drops are affordable and can be kept on hand or nearby, so that you won’t have to spend another moment worrying about this adverse effect.

3. Headaches/Lightheadedness/Dizziness

Less prevalent than some other side effects, headaches, lightheadedness and dizziness can all occur in some users and are sometimes related to dehydration or a lack of fluid consumption. In some other cases, it is simply the way a certain strain makes the body react. If you happen to experience this reaction, you may decide to stay away from that strain type and particular method of consumption, and try something else instead.

4. Increased Anxiety/Paranoia/Depression

For some, THC consumption is tied to an increase in anxiety, paranoia or depression. This is typically more prevalent amongst those who suffer from mood disorders, or have an anxiety/depression disorder to begin with. This does not usually relate to the strain type, although it sometimes can, and tends to be linked more with the intake of higher doses of THC. If this is the case for you, try choosing a strain with a lower THC content, and build little by little as you feel is comfortable.

5. Sleepiness/Lethargy

Some may feel sleepy after consuming THC, but for others, developing sleepiness and lethargy may be problematic and undesirable, leading to a lack in motivation or functionality. For those who experience lethargy after consuming THC, it may be suitable to try a sativa or sativa dominant strain type as an alternative, because these tend to be more energy inducing, revitalizing and motivational.

THC Side Effects: Should You Be Worried About Them?

Let’s be honest – THC is truly not for everyone. CBD, its non-psychoactive relative, might be a more suitable choice if you want to maintain functionality and not experience any slowing in reaction speed, etc. So then, the question remains, why choose THC?

First of all, some people genuinely enjoy the psychoactive experiences associated with tetrahydrocannabinol, and for this reason it may be relaxing or even exhilarating for them. For others, they may have tried both THC and CBD and discovered that THC seems to manage their medical symptoms more efficiently than CBD can. At the end of the day, it is all about personal preference. But it is important to keep in mind that THC is intoxicating, while CBD is not.

The medical benefit of cannabis should not overshadow the potential side effects of THC. Users always have alternative options to high-THC products.

The choice to consume THC is an extremely personal and individual decision, and depends heavily upon how the cannabinoid affects you, as well as how certain strains affect your body and mind versus others. With this being said, not all strains with THC affect the body the same, so someone that generally enjoys consuming THC might find a particular strain type that they “go-to” over others.

Making Your Own Personal Decision

If you have read all this information and have determined that tetrahydrocannabinol honestly isn’t for you, don’t worry- you have other options. Consider trying a product with CBD, like a strain that contains a greater content of CBD over THC, for example Charlotte’s Web, Canna-Tsu, ACDC, and Ringo’s Gift, just to name a few. Another option is to purchase a CBD-based product- many of them are produced with non-intoxicating hemp and contain merely trace amounts of THC (no more than 0.3%), so they will not cause the decrease in reaction time, change in behavior, etc.

There are a few reputable companies which produce these non-intoxicating CBD extracts, and they are legally available for purchase and delivery in all 50 states throughout the United States, as well as in some other countries that have recognized cannabis as legal for medical and recreational use, like Canada.

Final Thoughts on the Side Effects of THC

The choice to consume THC is extremely personal, and is selected by each individual on a case-by-case basis. If you are a person dealing with some of the medical conditions listed above, however, then you may discover THC to be a useful and healing alternative to conventional medical treatments or therapies. In some cases, medical patients pair the use of THC with their conventional therapies to offer dual assistance.

Regardless of your decision, remember that other options do exist if you determine that THC is not right for you. Don’t simply give up on your medical cannabis journey. Some suggest that CBD, for example, poses incredible medical benefits without any kind of a mind-altering high.