Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a chemical compound found in cannabis that is responsible for producing the “high” associated with marijuana use. Understanding the metabolic pathway of THC can help us better understand its effects on the body and how it is processed out of our system.
Pharmacokinetics is the study of how the human body interacts with substances from the entire duration of someone’s exposure to it. This branch of science tracks a substance through four stages: the substance’s absorption, its distribution throughout the body, its metabolism into different forms, and excretion from the body. Essentially, this field covers a substance’s impact on the body from when it enters until when it leaves.
Pharmacodynamics examines the relationship between drugs, their concentrations, and their behavior at their initial site of action. It focuses on how a drug will engage with different receptors throughout the body and the resulting effects. Pharmacodynamics examines the course of the drug in the body and the intensity of its therapeutic benefits and adverse effects. It will also explore how concentrations can affect these factors.
The half-life of a substance is the amount of time it takes for its active ingredients to be reduced in your body by half. The half-life of THC can be affected by how often you use cannabis and your body fat percentage. The half-life of THC for an infrequent user is approximately 1.3 days, while for heavy users, it can be anywhere from 5-13 days.
THC begins as an acid called THC-A in the plant. When exposed to heat, THC-A gets decarboxylated, which means that it loses a carboxyl group (COOH). That chemical change makes it psychoactive THC. Otherwise, THC-A, while still able to be processed by the body and provide anti-inflammatory benefits will not get you high.
Blood naturally passes through the liver where it regulates your blood sugar levels, clotting, and detoxifies blood by converting toxins and other compounds into different forms that can be processed or excreted, i.e., metabolism. For THC, enzymes in your liver convert THC into two different forms: psychoactive 11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC) and non-psychoactive 11-Nor-9-carboxy-THC (11-COOH-THC). Genetic markers can make these enzymes function differently from person to person.
When cannabis is smoked, cannabinoids instantly hit your bloodstream where they can travel to your brain and other body parts and connect to cannabinoid receptors triggering certain body functions such as getting hungry or developing euphoria. Cannabinoids then migrate to your liver where they get metabolized.
Unlike smoking which instantly launches THC and cannabinoids into the bloodstream, with edibles digestion needs to happen first. Unlike smoking which launches cannabinoids into the bloodstream immediately after inhalation, THC must hit the liver from the digestive system when ingested through edibles.
After metabolism from smoking or edibles, you end up with 11-hydroxy-THC and 11-Nor-9-carboxy-THC molecules; eventually 11-hydroxy-THC is converted into 11-Nor-9-carboxy-THC. The second phase of THC metabolism prepares 11-Nor-9-carboxy-THC for excretion that detoxifies blood by adding glucuronide molecules either through urination or defecation.
As a natural substance found in cannabis plants, THC has an intriguing engagement with our bodies wherein it expanded our understanding of endocannabinoid systems leading to new medical discoveries for potential medical applications. Readily metabolized by our bodies as an organic compound that mirrors our own endocannabinoids system; people with high metabolisms can process THC faster as well. Its affinity for lipids along with how often people use cannabis can increase its half-life and how long it can be detected by drug tests.
Overall understanding how your body metabolizes THC is just as important as understanding how your body digests food or processes water. With destigmatization spreading worldwide more people are now learning about engaging more closely with cannabis for medical purposes; applying online for a medical marijuana card ensures access to countless benefits of cannabinoids seeing firsthand how they work for individual bodies.