THC (TetraHydroCannabinol) is found in marijuana, a mixture of the dried flowering tops and leaves from the plant cannabis sativa. This chemical, THC, is responsible for the euphoric feeling associated with smoking marijuana. Marijuana contains over 400 different chemicals. THC belongs to a group of chemicals found in marijuana called cannibinoids. There are only 60 of these cannibinoids known at present, all of which can only be found in marijuana. THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana. The concentration of THC and other cannabinoids in marijuana varies greatly depending on growing conditions, plant genetics, and processing after harvest. In the usual mixture of leaves and stems of marijuana, concentration of THC ranges from 0.3 percent to 4 percent by weight. However, specially grown and selected marijuana can contain 15 percent or more THC. So, a marijuana cigarette weighing 1 gram (g) might contain as little as 3 milligrams (mg) of THC or as much as 150 mg or more. THC can stay in someone’s system from 20 hour to 30 days, although the “high” produced by THC often does not exceed 2 hours.
The human body breaks the THC down into metabolites. These metabolites, 11-hydroxy-THC and 11-nor-9-carboxy-delta-9-THC, are what is stored in your fat cells, not the chemical which causes the psychoactive effect. Because these metabolites carry the prefix THC, many anti-drug activists are able to claim that marijuana stays in your body for much longer, and keeps you high for days of weeks. The delta-9-THC that is found in marijuana must be broken down into these water-soluble molecules before they can be removed from the body. THC is quite potent when compared to most other psychoactive drugs. Large doses of THC delivered by marijuana or administered in the pure form can produce mental and perceptual effects similar to drugs usually termed hallucinogens or psychomimetics.
Although the chemical can be very potent, lethal doses of marijuana in humans are not known. There is much we do not know about THC and the effects it has on humans both mentally and physically because until recently the research on the chemical was mainly limited to the pure form tested on young males who had previous experience with the effects of THC. Even today, testing the effects of THC via smoking a marijuana cigarette can be very difficult because of a person’s smoking behavior during an experiment is hard for a researcher to control. People differ. Smoking behavior is not easily quantified. An experienced marijuana smoker can regulate a dose to get the desired psychological effects and to avoid overdose and/or minimize undesired effects.
Each puff delivers a discrete dose of THC to the body. Puff and inhalation volume changes with phase of smoking, tending to be highest at the beginning and lowest at the end of smoking a cigarette. Some studies found frequent users to have higher puff volumes than did less frequent marijuana users. During smoking, as the cigarette length shortens, the concentration of THC in the remaining marijuana increases; thus, each successive puff contains an increasing concentration of THC. Even with the complications of testing the effects of THC, scientist and physicians have discovered several medical benefits to the THC in marijuana. THC has been proven to help victims of cancer, AIDS, multiple scleroses, and numerous other diseases. The THC found in marijuana can also be used to fight pain, anxiety, and nausea. With further lab research, these and other possible benefits of THC might turn the American Drug War’s most-wanted into one of the world’s most beneficial chemicals.
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