Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the numerous chemical compounds found in marijuana and hemp plants. THC is the psychoactive component of the_ Cannabis sativa_ plant. It alters consumers’ mental states, producing a euphoric effect. It achieves this by connecting to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and activating them to influence thinking, pleasure, concentration, and coordination.
THC is naturally abundant in marijuana plants, while hemp contains trace amounts of THC, usually 0.3% or less. THC exists in various forms called isomers. They all have the same chemical formula but different arrangements of atoms. Notable THC isomers include Delta 6A (10A)- THC, Exo-THC, Delta-7 THC, Delta-8 THC, and Delta-10 THC.
Yes, THC is legal in Washington. In 2012, recreational marijuana became legal for adults aged 21 years and older through Initiative 502. The state legalized medical cannabis through Initiative 692 in 1996, permitting persons with certain qualifying conditions to use marijuana for medical purposes. In 2019, Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5276, authorizing the production of hemp with less than 0.3% THC.
Legally, THC concentration in hemp cannot be more than 0.3%, but marijuana may contain as high as 90% THC. Over time, THC potency in cannabis has increased considerably. In the 1960s, the average THC in most cannabis strains stood at 1%, and during the ’80s, THC potency in weed soared to about 4%. Over the last decade, reports show that THC concentration has surged significantly. The legalization of medical and recreational cannabis in various states has led to manufacturers experimenting with and cross-breeding marijuana strains to produce intensely potent THC-based products. Reports show that the THC levels of marijuana seized by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) between 1995 and 2014 increased from 4% to 12%. However, by 2021, the DEA reported up to 15% THC potency for confiscated marijuana. Presently, some cannabis strains have over 30% THC concentration.
The roots of hemp have the least THC content, which stands at about 0.03%. The stalks have up to 0.3% THC, while the leaves may contain up to 2% THC. The flowers are the most potent part of the cannabis plant, containing up to 12% THC. Cannabis strains with high THC levels in Washington include:
Godfather OG: 34% THC
Chiquita Banana: 33% THC
Grease Monkey: Up to 31% THC
Gorilla Ghost: 29% THC
Bruce Banner: 27 - 29% THC
Bubble Bath: 27% THC
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is a dormant cannabinoid in live or freshly harvested cannabis plants. It is a precursor to THC, having similar chemical composition. However, they are not the same. THCA is non-psychoactive. Hence, it does not bind with the CB1 or CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid systems in the body. THCA is converted to THC through decarboxylation, a process that uses heat or light to remove the carboxyl from cannabinoids. Cannabis product manufacturers must disclose the potency of THC products on their product labels. Consumers can expect to find the concentration analysis of CBDA, CBD, CBDV, CBG, CBN, THC, THCA, and THCVA.
There are various forms of THC, having the same chemical composition but different mind-altering effects. Some major THC compounds found in cannabis plants in order of abundance include:
THC is legal in Washington. In 1998, residents voted in favor of medical cannabis for persons with certain terminal or debilitating conditions, permitting the possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana-derived THC products. The legalization of recreational marijuana came in 2012 through Initiative 502. The law allows the use of marijuana-derived THC products for persons 21 years and older.
The 2018 Farm Bill declassified hemp from the list of controlled substances and legalized the sale, use, and possession of hemp-based products, provided they contain no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight. The bill excludes hemp from the definition of marijuana and creates a hemp program under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), making hemp an agricultural crop. It also requires the USDA to approve hemp program plans submitted by states for hemp production.
In 2019, Washington State revised its hemp production regulations to comply with the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill, codified into Chapter 15.140 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), established licensing and regulatory programs for hemp production and approved the cultivation of hemp in Washington. Consequently, residents may legally purchase hemp-based THC products, including tinctures, topicals, edibles, concentrates, and vape oil, from online retailers or licensed dispensaries.
According to Section 46.61.502 of the RCW, it is a punishable offense to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of THC. The legal limit of THC for drivers is 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood for persons aged 21 years or older. For persons under 21, driving under the influence (DUI) of THC, regardless of the amount of THC in the bloodstream, is prohibited.
The penalty for a first-time DUI offense in Washington is 24 hours to 365 days jail term, and fines between $350 to $5,000. A second-time offender gets 30 to 365 days in prison with fines between $500 and $5,000. The third and subsequent DUI offense is a jail sentence of 90 days to a year with fines not exceeding $5,000.
THC can be detected by drug tests up to several weeks after the last use. Generally, detecting THC in the body depends on certain factors, including the following:
The frequency of THC consumption
The method of administering THC into the body
The consumer’s body fat
The type of sample collected for the drug test
The consumer’s metabolic rate
The amount of THC consumed
While the effects of THC can fade hours after use, its metabolites can remain in the body for several weeks after the last consumption. THC is fat soluble, and when consumed, it is absorbed by the bloodstream or stored in the body's organs and fatty tissues. Over time, the stored THC is released back into the bloodstream to be metabolized by the liver.
THC detection window varies, depending on the drug test. A hair follicle drug test has the longest detection window of up to 90 days after the last use of THC. A urine test is the most preferred method of testing for THC metabolites in the body. It can detect THC for up to 5 days for occasional users and 30 days for heavy consumers. The saliva test has a minimal test detection window. A saliva swab can reveal THC metabolites within 24 hours for light users and 72 hours for frequent users. A blood test can detect THC in the bloodstream within 12 hours for mild users and up to 30 days for recurrent users.
THC oils are the resins extracted from the flowering part of the cannabis plants. They are produced by combining the marijuana plant with solvents and water. The mixture is heated to distillate the solvent, and the resulting composition is filtered to remove unwanted sediments. The mixture is exposed to extreme heat, leaving the THC oils and resins. Marijuana and hemp contain THC. Most THC oils are extracted from marijuana plants due to their high concentration of THC. THC oil is psychotropic and extremely potent but safe if consumed with caution. THC oil binds with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the brain and central nervous system to produce euphoric effects. It can be consumed sublingually or by vaporizing. It can also be added to smoothies or used in baked goods.
THC oil is different from CBD oil. CBD oil is produced by extracting cannabidiol from marijuana or hemp plants. Hemp plants have higher CBD levels than marijuana plants. Consequently, most CBD oils are hemp-based and non-psychoactive. Unlike THC oil, CBD oil does not cause a “high.” Instead, it provides medicinal benefits, including pain relief and relaxation.
THC distillate is a purified and concentrated form of THC. THC distillates are produced by extracting oil from cannabis resins using a solvent and removing impurities. Once filtered, the resulting mixture is distilled using extreme heat and pressure to remove other cannabinoids and terpenes, leaving only the THC compound. THC distillates are pure THC extract, making them highly potent and psychoactive. Although they are safe to consume, the pure THC content in THC distillate makes them intensely psychoactive. Therefore, only experienced cannabis consumers are advised to use THC distillates. It can be used with a vape pen, a dab ring, sublingually, or a smokable joint.
THC distillates and THC oils are disparate. THC oils are concentrates that have not undergone the process of extreme refining to remove terpenes and other compounds. THC distillates are heavily refined THC oils. Likewise, THC distillates differ from CBD distillates. CBD distillates are highly purified and concentrated cannabidiol obtained from the flowers and leaves of hemp plants. They are non-psychoactive, unlike THC distillates. CBD distillate is well known for producing relaxation effects, improving sleep, and relieving pain.
Delta-9 THC products are available in licensed medical and recreational weed dispensaries in Washington. Residents may also purchase THC products from online weed dispensaries. However, Delta-8 THC products are illegal in Washington. In Washington, Delta-9 THC products are available as gummies, beverages, tinctures, capsules, concentrates, vapes, and topicals.