If you have been following the science on marijuana, you are probably acquainted with the chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC.


THC or Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the cannabinoid, that gives cannabis its zing, if not creates, at least in some users, the “high”, that creates euphoria, as well as provides significant relief for medical users.

THC is able to do this because we actually have receptors in our brain to which THC binds.

Because THC can interact with our endocannabinoid system, it can create disruptions in how neurons, dependent on the endogenous neurotransmitter, function. These disruptions are responsible for all of the psychoactive symptoms one can experience after smoking the drug: increased appetite, forgetfulness, changes in time perception, altered motor function, etc.

Why does cannabis produce cannabinoids?

Well, obviously it did not produce it for human consumption. The answer is unknown but there are some theories.

  • Theory 1 suggests that it serves to protect the leaves from UV exposure, which can cause DNA damage.
  • Theory 2 suggests that functions more like an antibiotic. In the lab, experiments show that THC can have antibacterial effects.
  • Theory 3 is interesting because it suggests that, in fact, the THC is there to produce intoxication…just not of humans. Plant-eating animals, including insects, could be susceptible to THC’s mind-altering effects too.

One of the theories about why cannabis produces THC is to protect the plant from “infection” or disease. THC has strong antimicrobial properties in humans. It may be, that it serves the same purpose for the plant that produces them: they are the cannabis plant’s “immune system”.

But not so fast. Higher THC plants are not more resistant to pathogens and pests than those with less THC.

Sure, we know what THC can do. Continued research is shedding light on its medicinal benefits. However, one aspect that is hardly discussed is when exactly does THC (and other cannabinoids) start to form in the cannabis plant?



While THC is found throughout all of the aerial parts (i.e the sugar and fan leaves) of a marijuana plant, it is found most abundantly in the flowers of female marijuana plants.

Cannabinoid production starts when an enzyme causes geranyl pyrophosphate and olivetolic acid to combine and form CBGA. Next, CBGA is independently converted to either CBG, THCA, CBDA or CBCA by four separate synthase, FAD-dependent dehydrogenase enzymes.

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Cannabinoid synthesis begins as plants move into their bloom phase. As they produce flowers, trichome cells within the gland head begin to metabolize what will become THC. Trichomes will display maturity when they change colour – going from a clear and translucent state to a cloudy white and then amber colour. This change of colour represents its peak ripeness and is also an indicator for the peak time to harvest the plant.

That said, not all strains of cannabis are the same and different strains have trichomes, that mature differently. Either when alive on the vine or after harvest, trichomes are also fragile and can be destroyed or degraded by rough handling, light, heat, air and time. In addition to the trichomes themselves risk damage, but the essential oils they also contain can also be degraded.

To limit this potential, it is very important to protect the flowers from too much physical contact. Proper trimming, drying and curing techniques can also help keep trichomes viable for longer.

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