What is THC (Δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol)?

Many people associate cannabis with, “getting high” and in part, they are not wrong. The most commonly known active component of Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica—two of the most common variants of herbal cannabis, is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. In its natural state, THC is not psychoactive! However, this is a slight chemical misnomer—THC in its natural state on the plant is actually THCa or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. Merely taking a bite out of cannabis plant material should not have an effect on the consumer aside from providing a boon of vitamins and fiber.[1] The curing and drying process the plant goes through is what removes the acid component from the plant leaving behind THC as the majority of users know it. In fact, there’s a huge trend towards juicing raw cannabis for health benefits. In the raw form of THCa and CBDa the body can tolerate significantly larger quantities of each component.[2]

The most common and recreational effects sought after by users are euphoria, stimulation, muscle relaxation, giddiness, and heightened sensations. In addition to the psychoactive effects, THC has also been acknowledged with clinical benefits such as antiemetic appetite stimulation, analgesic properties, anti-spasm anti-tremor properties, hypotension, antidepressant, and potentially immunologic-modulating actions. In fact, some of the first permissible uses for THC were in cases of chronic pain, seizures, glaucoma, and HIV/AIDS. Most recently, there has been research regarding the interaction with flavonoids in anti-cancer treatment.

Although interaction typically occurs throughout the body, THC most strongly interacts with CB1 receptors, which commonly have a high concentration of receptors in the basal ganglia, hippocampus (formation of new memories, learning, and emotion), cortex (integration of coordination, complex sensory, and neural functions), and cerebellum (regulation of muscular activity). When someone physically smokes cannabis, the THC enters the blood stream via absorption through the lungs. It then travels straight to the heart and is disbursed throughout the entire body, including the brain. Typically the effects kick in around 10-20 minutes after inhalation.

It may come as a surprise to most, but studies have indicated that there is no “realistic” LD-50 for cannabis, or THC intoxication. The term LD-50 is a commonly used approximation of toxic doses that would serve to kill 50 percent of animals tested on. Although older, a study known as the Rosenkrantz survey indicated that the median lethal dose following oral administration was 800mg/kg in rats, up to 3,000mg/kg in dogs and up to 9,000mg/kg in monkeys.[3] It was then extrapolated that a lethal dose for a 70kg human (~154lbs) could reach approximately four grams of THC. [4] Although there is no formal data for human testing, there is a presumption that a lethal dose for THC toxicity is very difficult to reach by means of typical cannabis consumption (smoking, vaping, or ingestion).

New Psychoactive Substances and Their Effects

While THC commonly found in cannabis (natural THC) has a low propensity to be lethal, synthetic cannabinoids adopt a much more dangerous tenor. Newly dubbed, “new psychoactive substances”  (NPS),  synthetic cannabinoids are human-made chemicals that are either sprayed or dried onto shredded plant matter to be smoked or sold as liquids to use with a vaporizer or e-cigarette. They are often marketed as incense and are commonly available at local shops, novelty stores and even gas stations. While marijuana use in adults has rarely been associated with cardiovascular adverse effects, NPS abuse has seen a rise in adverse effects including altered mental status, tachycardia, and loss of consciousness. Recent studies indicate that synthetic cannabinoids have a higher propensity towards hypertension, agitation, hallucinations, psychosis, anxiety, seizures and panic attacks.[5] Furthermore, there are indications that chronic abuse may also result in severe withdrawal and dependence syndromes. [6]

Food For Thought: What Happens When Cannabis Consumption Meets Nine to Five?

Given the above considerations—how does consumption of cannabis and THC specifically interplay with work-related function? While the practical applications of that question certainly require a case-by-case basis analysis of form and function, it appears that the law in New York is progressive towards cannabis users. In April, 2019, the New York City Council passed a bill that prohibited pre-employment drug testing for the presence of marijuana or THC-related derivatives. Specifically, the law amends Section 8-107 of the New York City Administrative Code by adding subsection 31 to prohibit employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, or their agents from requiring prospective employees, “to submit to testing for the presence of any tetrahydrocannabinols or marijuana in such prospective employee’s system as a condition of employment.” Naturally, there are some exceptions for: any individual working in law enforcement; laborers, mechanics, workers, or contractors working on a public work-site; Commercial Driver’s License holders; and any position that involves the supervision or care of children, medical patients, or vulnerable individuals as defined by the NY Social Services Law. Logically, these considerations encompass safety-centric positions or positions with interaction between federal, state, and local government is involved.

Up Next–Is THC purely beneficial for a “high”, or can it be used to treat pain?

 

[1] Believe-it-or-not, fresh cannabis plants are now considered an incredible source of nutrients and have been dubbed, a “superfood”!

[2] There are strong indications that raw cannabis actually has very strong anti-oxidant and neuro-protective properties.

[3] Rosenkrantz, H., I.A. Heyman, and M.C. Braude, Inhalation, parenteral and oral LD50 values of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol in Fischer rats. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol, 1974. 28(1): p. 18-27.

[4] Gable, R.S., Toward a comparative overview of dependence potential and acute toxicity of psychoactive substances used nonmedically. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse, 1993. 19(3): p. 263-81.

[5] Robert Kronstrand, Markus Roman, Mikael Andersson, Arne Eklund, Toxicological Findings of Synthetic Cannabinoids in Recreational Users, Journal of Analytical Toxicology, Volume 37, Issue 8, October 2013, Pages 534–541, https://doi.org/10.1093/jat/bkt068

[6] Zimmermann U.S.,  Winkelmann P.R.,  Pilhatsch M.,  Nees J.A.,  Spanagel R.,  Schulz K.. Withdrawal phenomena and dependence syndrome after the consumption of ‘spice gold, Deutsches Aerzteblatt International , 2009, vol. 106 (pg. 464-467).

 

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