Cannabis Plant Science

What is THC?


What is THC?

THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is a chemical compound that originates in the cannabis plant. It creates effects in the body by interacting with the endocannabinoid system. In Australia, doctors may prescribe THC products to benefit certain patients. However, these may need to be  approved by the relevant regulatory bodies. Many different medical cannabis products incorporate THC including vaporisers and oils.

What does THC do?

THC interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system when ingested. The interactions with endocannabinoid receptors result in physiological and psychoactive effects. THC is used in a large proportion of medicinal cannabis products. Research continues to be done to discover THC’s potential within a medicinal context.

How does THC interact with the endocannabinoid system?

THC molecules interact with cannabinoid receptors throughout the body’s endocannabinoid system. In particular, they tend to bind to CB1 receptors. These are primarily located in the brain and nervous system, and involved in physiological processes including memory, motor control, appetite, pain perception and inflammation. Because of the interaction with the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptors, THC has the potential to cause psychoactive effects when consumed. This is one of the key reasons that THC is so stringently regulated.

Is THC legal in Australia?

THC products are legal in Australia with a valid medical prescription. Due to their psychoactive properties, they are heavily regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This means that prescriptions for THC-based products may need to be sent to the TGA for approval, depending on if the prescriber utilises a SAS-B or Authorised Prescriber Pathway.

Driving and THC

In most of Australia, it is against the law to drive with THC in your body, even if you are not impaired. If a patient is stopped for a random drug test and THC is detected, a patient may face a fine or loss of their license. Healthcare professionals should discuss the implications of THC containing medications for patients who must drive or operate heavy machinery on a regular basis.

The reason products containing THC are incompatible with driving is their potential for psychoactive effects and temporary cognitive impairment. Patients should be advised not to perform tasks that require mental alertness and fine motor skills after consuming medication containing THC.

How to get a THC prescription in Australia

A doctor in Australia may decide to provide a prescription for products that contain THC when they believe it would benefit a specific patient. However, they must use the appropriate channels to get their prescription approved. The two most common options are using Special Access Scheme (SAS) or becoming an authorised prescriber (AP). Using the SAS, individual prescriptions are approved for specific patients. Alternatively, a doctor who is an authorised prescriber can prescribe THC products to a range of patients under their care. Check out our geographical FAQs to learn about the nuances of THC prescription in different Australian states.

What types of products contain THC?

THC is incorporated into a broad range of medicinal cannabis products. It takes the form of different administration methods depending on what works better for a patient. Medicinal cannabis extracts, flower, oils, vaporisers, topical products and edible products may all include THC.

THC extract

THC extract refers to a concentrated form of THC that has been extracted from the cannabis plant. There are many different processes that can be used for the initial extraction. After that, a purification step is necessary to bring the extract to an appropriate concentration. Then it may be combined with a carrier oil for ease of consumption. Finally, it must be tested before being approved for use. THC extract can be vaporised or consumed orally if it’s been made into a THC oil.

THC flower

Dried cannabis flower containing THC can be used in cannabis vaporisation. Vaporisers work by heating up dried cannabis flower below the point of combustion. This creates a vapour that the user inhales into their lungs and absorbs into their bloodstream. For more information, read our cannabis vaporisation article.

What is the cost of THC in Australia?

A number of factors influence the overall cost of THC-based treatment in Australia such as the type of product, the dosage, the concentration and health insurance policy of the patient. The type of product is important because the manufacturing costs vary depending what form the THC takes. There may be a more complex process required for manufacturing something like a soft gel compared to processing dry herb. Dosage is also important to factor in, because that corresponds to buying greater amounts of a medicinal cannabis product. And a big part of determining dosage will be based on the product’s THC concentration. Since a product with a higher concentration has more THC per weight or volume, that will likely increase the price. And the overall cost will always be heavily impacted by someone’s health insurance policy. Whilst public health insurance schemes like Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) do not cover THC treatment, some private health insurance policies might. It is integral that you check with your chosen insurer to find out the exact parameters of your policy.

How is THC different from CBD?

THC and CBD are similar chemicals that have some important structural differences. This affects their interactions with the endocannabinoid system. What separates the two is that THC uses an open ring arrangement. This causes it to bind more strongly to the CB1 receptors and cause psychoactive effects. CBD has a closed ring arrangement, which allows non-binding interactions that don’t cause this side-effect. As a result, THC and CBD are regulated slightly differently.

Want to learn more?

Kind Medical has a variety of educational materials to help inform healthcare professionals about medicinal cannabis. Doctors can learn more by accessing our healthcare professionals portal or browsing our range of articles. Alternatively, feel free to contact us today for more information.

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