THC molecule in front of red bubbles

What is THC & What Does It Do?

There’s no cannabinoid out there that is more well-known or misunderstood than THC. This tiny compound not only packs a psychoactive punch, it’s also the subject of fascinating research because of the way it interacts with our endocannabinoid system.

In this guide, we’re doing a deep dive into THC, or Delta-9, where we’ll cover questions including:

  • What is THC?
  • Where Does THC Come From?
  • How Does THC Work?
  • Is THC Legal?
  • What are the Benefits of THC?
  • Does Medical THC work?
  • FAQs About THC

What is THC

THC, otherwise known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or Delta-9, is the cannabinoid known for causing psychoactive effects in cannabis consumers. It’s just one of the many compounds created by the marijuana plant.

THC, like its cousin CBD, interacts with our endocannabinoid system, binding with cannabinoid receptors found throughout our bodies and brains. Depending on the potency of the cannabis product, THC can cause intense, intoxicating effects that some canna-connoisseurs love and others try to avoid.

While THC was first isolated in 1964, it has been consumed in marijuana plants for thousands of years.

Where Does THC Come From?

THC comes from the flowers of the cannabis plant. Within those parts of the marijuana plant, there are tiny glands called trichomes. Trichomes—commonly known by cannabis enthusiasts as those sticky little hairs you sometimes get on your fingers when you handle flower—contain a variety of cannabinoids, including THC.

Interestingly, indica strains have always tended to produce higher levels of THC than sativa strains, but as more and more hybrids are bred into existence by growers, the levels of THC vary more depending on the strain itself rather than the subspecies.


How Does THC Work?

You may know that THC gets you “high” or intoxicated, but how? What does THC do in the body? To understand how THC works, you have to look at our endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a chemical system in our bodies that helps keep us in a physiological balance. Within the ECS, there are CB1 and CB2 receptors—CB 1 receptors tend to be found in our nervous system while CB2 receptors are located throughout the body and in immune cells.

THC, when consumed, enters the body and connects with those receptors. When it does that, a system that normally helps keep us regulated is thrown out of alignment, creating an altered state. In the case of THC, we experience psychoactive effects from THC that are enhanced or complemented by other cannabinoids in the marijuana. This combination of cannabinoids and other compounds creates the entourage effect.


Want to know more? Hear from our Chief Medical Advisor Debra Kimless, MD., in our guide to the endocannabinoid system.

Is THC Legal?

THC is legal, but not federally. Because of this, THC is only legal in certain states. While organizations continue to push for federal legalization, states will likely continue to make their own rules for cannabis sales and consumption. You should always check the rules of the state you’re in or traveling to before trying to purchase or consume marijuana within its borders.

What are the Benefits of THC?

Many people, cannabis enthusiasts included, think THC is just a cannabinoid that causes psychoactive effects. That couldn’t be further from the truth. THC may have anti-inflammatory effects, reduce pain, stimulate appetite, and even help patients with cancer get through side effects from treatment and symptoms of their condition. THC may also stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, which may affect your mood, concentration, and even perception of time. Plus, when THC activates CB1 receptors, it increases the anandamide in our bodies, a chemical that can cause feelings of enjoyment and pleasure.

So why aren’t we bottling THC and giving it to everyone? Two reasons: First, the effects of THC are unique to your endocannabinoid system, so it’s possible that you will have a different experience when consuming THC than someone else. The second reason is that we need to do significantly more research before we can turn that “thought to have benefits” into “known to have benefits.” While scientists are working hard to learn more about THC, we just don’t have enough substantial research available to truly say we understand exactly what THC can do, and how it may or may not help someone with a certain condition.

Until we do, you should look at THC as a compound that has the potential to affect your endocannabinoid system and create a unique, psychoactive experience for you.

Does Medical THC Work?

With millions of medical cannabis patients across the country, there’s no question that some people feel medical THC marijuana works as a treatment for certain conditions. That said, many more large clinical trials need to be performed before we can say with any certainty that THC and the other compounds found in marijuana can help with anything. That’s why it’s important that healthcare providers and patients have an informed conversation about medical marijuana, including risks and side effects, before practitioners can recommend cannabis. What could work for one patient may not work for you.

Answering FAQs About THC

There is no cannabinoid that has the reputation of THC. Those three letters are known by both cannabis enthusiasts and people indifferent to the industry. Because of that, there’s a lot of curiosity around Delta-9 THC. Here’s some of the questions we get from our customers:

What’s the difference between THC and Delta-8 THC?
Scientifically, the difference between THC (Delta-9) and Delta-8 is a few carbon atoms. Legally? They’re significantly different. Delta-9 (what we commonly call THC) can only be purchased from dispensaries in certain states where marijuana has been legalized. While Delta-8 is also a cannabinoid found in marijuana plants, the Delta-8 you find on the market is typically derived from CBD that comes from hemp. This legal loophole has allowed stores to sell this Diet Coke of THC in states where recreational marijuana isn’t legalized.

Is THC the same as cannabis?
No, THC is just one of the many chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant.

What does THC stand for?
THC is the abbreviated name we’ve given to tetrahydrocannabinol. One look at that word and you understand why we abbreviate it.

Understanding & Purchasing THC

THC is a fascinating cannabinoid, but we’re only scratching the surface of what it may be able to do. Until that research comes out, it’s important to try THC with the mindset that you will have your own personal experience. You may discover you love a potent indica, or you may decide that you prefer a combination of THC and CBD in your concentrates. That’s the best part about cannabis—you make your experience your own.

Recreational cannabis is not available in all states. Cannabis is for medical use only and may only be used by certified patients in Pennsylvania. State laws impact what dispensaries can and can’t sell to recreational customers and certified patients. Not every type of product, consumption method, dosage form, or potency mentioned on this blog will be permitted in all locations.