THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant, also known as marijuana. When used, either through ingestion or inhalation, it binds to specific receptors in the brain called cannabinoid receptors. In low doses, the compound causes some pain reduction, may reduce aggression, can stimulate appetite, and may help reduce nausea. Higher doses may cause the “high” associated with marijuana, leading to altered perception of time and space, and feelings of happiness or fatigue.
Lab-produced forms of the chemical are often preferable in countries where the use of cannabis is illegal. The prescription drug Marinol®, containing lab-created THC, is used to treat eating disorders, to help relieve the side effects of chemotherapy, and to help counteract the devastating effects of full-blown AIDS. The compound has also been researched for its possible benefits in reducing the tics caused by people with Tourette Syndrome, and early research in this area suggests that it may be beneficial in this regard.
It should be noted that many people who take the prescription drug and who have also used THC in more natural forms, feel that the chemical derived from cannabis is significantly more effective. This has been a growing issue, as the uses of the compound have now been proven to have specific benefit to people with a variety of conditions. The war on drugs in the US makes it very difficult to obtain cannabis legally in many places, though there are a few states or cities that provide limited access for people with certain illnesses. Many willfully break the law, however, because they feel that cannabis provides better relief from their symptoms than synthetics.
The negative associations with drug use have, according to many patients, led to prejudice against THC. Some medical professionals note that medications that could have far more devastating effects than marijuana are used and prescribed legally in many places. Further, researchers are now also finding that this compound may provide relief for other extremely serious conditions. In several studies on mice, it has been found to reduce tumor growth, and a 2006 study also suggests that it might reduce plaque formation in the brain and either delay the onset or reduce the severity of Alzheimer’s disease. Additional studies indicate that THC could reduce painful spasms in people with multiple sclerosis and may help control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Although it is addictive, marijuana is not considered a highly addictive drug, and studies that suggest extended use of marijuana disrupts brain function have recently been called into question. Control group studies on habitual marijuana users show very little difference in MRI scans than in those who do not use it. Many cannabis advocacy groups, and many medical researchers, continue to advocate for people to have, at the very least, prescription access to THC derived from cannabis. It remains to be seen whether these groups will ever be able to successfully legalize cannabis as medication in the US, given the public opinion that exists against it in many locations.