Different Types of THC

Even if you are brand new to cannabis- and hemp-derived products, you’ve likely still heard of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in cannabis responsible for giving users a sense of euphoria, or the feeling of being “high.”

What you may not know is that there are a number of different types of THC, and knowing about the variety of THC you can find in flower, topicals, or even the different types of THC edibles can be useful in curating your experience.

thc chemical composition drawn out on a chalkboard

THC products have shifted over the years, especially since the early days of recreational legalization and the 2018 Farm Bill, which allows for a concentration level of 0.3% THC by weight if it’s extracted from hemp plants. As THC is one of more than 100 known cannabinoids in cannabis, there’s a lot to keep up with.

So, dive in with us as we explore the many variations of THC!

What is THC?

THC is the most popular, well-known, and sought-after cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids are a group of substances within the plant that activate cannabinoid receptors in the human body. Cannabinoids like THC interact with our endocannabinoid system, which carries the primary purpose of regulating and controlling critical bodily functions.

What Does THC Do?

Cannabinoids like CBD can be non-psychoactive, meaning they won’t elicit the high associated with psychoactive cannabinoids like THC. On a scientific level, THC has a structure similar to the endocannabinoids our bodies already produce, which allows each type of THC to bind with the receptors in the endocannabinoid system, affecting our bodies and perception.

THC tends to affect mood, alertness, and cognitive functions, and the cannabinoid has also been shown to carry potential medical benefits. The variations of cannabis are called “chemical analogs,” distinct from one another and also carrying slightly different properties and potential benefits.

What Are the Different Types of THC Cannabinoids?

There is a pretty hefty collection of THC types to explore, though admittedly, some types of THC are more common, while others may have only recently begun to pop onto the scene. Let’s start with some of the most common forms of THC you’ll run into:

Delta-8 THC

Delta-8 has seen a huge boost in popularity following hemp legalization in the U.S. It’s the most prominent hemp-derived form of THC in the U.S., often used in an array of cannabis products since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, so long as the product contains less than 0.3% THC by weight.

The cannabinoid is similar to Delta-9, the “classic” and most popular form of THC, though many will note that it tends to carry milder and subdued effects overall. This can potentially offer a more clear-headed experience, with some of the same potential medical benefits of Delta-9 (which we’ll dive into next).

Of course, this depends on the consumer. With any form of THC, it’s important to start slow on dosing until you understand how the cannabinoid affects you.

Delta-9 THC

Delta-9 is the most common form of THC and usually used as the point of comparison when we discuss THC. It’s the most well-known compound sourced from cannabis flower, though it’s also found in hemp and can be sold as a hemp-derived product, so long as it doesn’t exceed that 0.3% THC threshold.

Some potential medical benefits of Delta-9 THC include:

Pain management: Delta-9 has been shown to help moderate pain symptoms, and pain is often a qualifying condition for medical cannabis patients in various states. A recent study found that a 48:1 THC:CBD oil consumed sublingually helped to reduce pain symptoms, and another found that a single milligram dose of THC created a meaningful reduction of neuropathic pain.

Stress relief: While it’s a complicated topic, research has shown that THC can help to alleviate feelings of anxiety at low doses. At higher doses, THC can actually increase anxiety, but many consumers can find their own sweet spot to avoid these feelings. Combining THC with CBD can also help to manage symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Anti-nausea: THC is known for its anti-emetic properties and is often used to prevent nausea and vomiting in cancer patients, but it also has been shown to be effective in preventing these symptoms in other conditions.

Anecdotal evidence has suggested even more potential benefits of THC, though more research needs to be done to fully confirm the full range of potential for Delta-9 THC.

THC-A

THC-A, which stands for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the (you guessed it) acidic form of THC, and it’s a precursor to active forms of THC. THC-A on its own is not psychoactive, until it is heated. Without heat, THC-A molecules are too large to fit into our bodies’ endocannabinoid receptors.

You might see percentages of THC-A on the test results of dispensary-bought flower. This acidic form of THC enters the decarboxylation process when heated, converting it into different THC compounds. This is the reason, for example, you won’t get high if you eat cannabis flower, but exposing it to heat and inhaling the smoke will elicit the feeling of being high.

Edibles already have decarboxylated THC, and anyone making edibles at home must first heat up the dry flower in order to experience the psychoactive effects. Currently, hemp-derived THC-A is federally legal, but cannabis-derived THC-A is not.

THC-V

THC-V is a unique variation, similar to Delta-9, just derived from a different compound. Delta-9 THC comes from CBG-A, the acidic form of cannabigerol, but THC-V is derived from CBGV-A when exposed to light. The cannabinoid can be found in higher amounts among certain strains, though THC-V isolate products aren’t common.

Research has also highlighted a number of THC-V’s potential benefits:

Stress reduction: Researchers have observed THC-V’s potential to counteract the anxiety-inducing effects of high doses of Delta-9 THC.

Appetite suppression: Unlike Delta-9, which can infamously lead to the munchies, THC-V can offer an increased feeling of being full, preventing hunger sensations. The concept is backed by a few animal studies, including one that suggested that THC-V can curb food intake and weight gain.

Energy stimulation: Research has also honed in on THC-V’s potential to uptick the metabolism, effectively boosting energy and activity.

Are There Other Forms of THC?

While we highlighted some of the major THC cannabinoids you’ll run into on the market, there are even more out there!

There’s Delta-10, which like Delta-8 THC is considered to be more mild and emerged from hemp legalization in the United States. You may also run into the high-potency phytocannabinoid THC-P, the synthetic cannabinoid THC-O. Or consider HHC, another rising hemp-derived cannabinoid that isn’t explicitly THC but is created through Delta-9 THC and CBD and promotes similar uplifted and euphoric feelings.

As research continues, we’ll likely bear witness to even more cannabinoids. We know that each type of THC has its own unique characteristics, so knowing exactly what type you’re consuming can be helpful when tailoring your own experience and finding the products that are right for you!

References

Abioye, A., Ayodele, O., Marinkovic, A., Patidar, R., Akinwekomi, A., & Sanyaolu, A. (2020). Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV): A commentary on potential therapeutic benefit for the management of obesity and diabetes. Journal of Cannabis Research. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1186/s42238-020-0016-7

Almog, S., Aharon-Peretz, J., Vulfsons, S., Ogintz, M., Abalia, H., Lupo, T., Hayon, Y., & Eisenberg, E. (2020). The pharmacokinetics, efficacy, and safety of a novel selective-dose cannabis inhaler in patients with chronic pain: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. European Journal of Pain. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1002/ejp.1605

Chives, C., MD, Bittencourt, P. C. T., MD, MSc, & Pelegrini, A., PhD (2020). Ingestion of a THC-Rich Cannabis Oil in People with Fibromyalgia: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Pain Medicine. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnaa303

Englund, A., Atakan, Z., Kralj, A., Tunstall, N., Murray, R., & Morrison, P. (2016). The effect of five day dosing with THCV on THC-induced cognitive, psychological and physiological effects in healthy male human volunteers: A placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover pilot trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1177/0269881115615104

Parker, L. A., Rock, E. M., & Limebeer, C. L. (2011). Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids. British Journal of Pharmacology. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.01176.x

Riedel, G., Fadda, P., McKillop-Smith, S., Pertwee, R. G., Platt, B., & Robinson, L. (2009). Synthetic and plant-derived cannabinoid receptor antagonists show hypophagic properties in fasted and non-fasted mice. British Journal of Pharmacology. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2008.00107.x

Stoner, S. A., PhD (2017, June). Effects of Marijuana on Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders. University of Washington. https://adai.uw.edu/pubs/pdf/2017mjanxiety.pdf

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