by Erica Garza

THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is widely known as the part of the cannabis plant that gets you “high.” Unlike CBD, the other most notable natural compound found in the plant, THC does produce psychotropic effects, but that’s not the only reason it’s worth exploring. Several studies show that THC has been linked to pain relief, deeper sleep and even better sex. Whether you’re a twenty-something competing in a triathlon or a senior trying to improve your sleep, THC may make a difference in your day-to-day life. While research to identify health benefits of THC continues, here are a few already known.

Pain Relief

Cannabis has been used in traditional medicine — including pain management — for thousands of years, extending from China to other parts of the world. In an assessment of 18 trials of more than 800 people suffering from chronic pain, researchers found that THC had powerful analgesic properties and that it significantly reduced pain. Another study showed that reduction in pain may simply be a result of a shift in perception, as THC can influence how a person perceives pain. When scientists induced pain in healthy volunteers and then treated them with THC, they noticed reduced activity between the amygdala part of the brain and primary sensorimotor areas. While the volunteers still noticed the pain, it didn’t seem to bother them much as those given placebo. These findings can be as helpful for young people experiencing occasional post-workout aches as for older people dealing with stiff joints or other chronic pain conditions.

 

Improved Workouts

Speaking of post-workout aches, while most studies show that cannabis does not improve aerobic performance or strength, more and more athletes are claiming that it not only makes their training more enjoyable, but it helps them recover faster. Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, told The New York Times that the link between a “runner’s high” and the “high” that comes from THC does make sense. “Both of those involve activation of the endocannabinoid system,” Bobb-Miller said, “so it’s not too surprising that THC might be used to enhance the runner’s high that’s gained from endurance exercise.” Even more, since THC can influence how a person perceives pain, the discomfort experienced during a strenuous exercise or long run may not seem like such a big deal.

Deeper Sleep

In the same way that THC may prevent pain from interfering with a workout, it may also prevent pain from interfering with sleep. In a study of patients with multiple sclerosis given either pure THC or cannabis extracts over 15 weeks, researchers found that patients reported less stiffness, pain, spasticity and spasms, resulting in better quality sleep. But even for those whose poor sleep has nothing to do with pain, THC can help. According to a 2008 study, ingesting marijuana strains with higher levels of THC typically reduced the amount of REM sleep in participants, which meant they experienced more time in deep sleep.

 

Better Sex

THC can also improve your sex life, from enhancing the libido to improving the quality of orgasms to even aiding lubrication. In a survey of 133 sexually active adult women at one academic OB-GYN practice, 72 percent of women said cannabis “always increased their erotic pleasure,” while 62 percent said it enhanced the quality of their orgasms and their libidos in general. Another 16 percent disclosed that they took cannabis before sex to reduce potential pain.

Euphoria and Less Stress

As THC increases dopamine levels in the brain, the effect for some users is a pleasant sense of euphoria. But dopamine isn’t the only reason for this pleasure. The molecular makeup of THC resembles that of the body’s natural anti-depressant, anandamide. A neurotransmitter that plays an important role in pleasure, memory, motivation, movement, pain, appetite and fertility, anandamide is typically referred to as the “bliss molecule,” and because THC has a similar structure, the brain processes it in the same way. Unfortunately, our bodies break down anandamide quickly, but researchers have found that CBD can inhibit this biological action, helping to maintain pleasure longer. This is one reason why some cannabis users prefer strains that contain both CBD and THC. One Washington State University study showed that cannabis high in CBD and low in THC was optimal for reducing symptoms of depression, while cannabis high in both CBD and THC helped to reduce stress. Finding the right ratio is up each individual, but it shouldn’t always be assumed that more THC is best. The lead researcher on the study explained, “A lot of consumers seem to be under the false assumption that more THC is always better. Our study shows that CBD is also a very important ingredient in cannabis and may augment some of the positive effects of THC.”

Papa & Barkley’s line of Releaf products are full-spectrum and made using a whole plant infusion process, which means they contain all of the phytonutrients, terpenes, and full spectrum of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, including THC. This is opposed to CBD isolate, which is 99 to 100 percent CBD. Full-spectrum products are often preferable to CBD isolate, as research shows that cannabinoids and terpenes occur in nature together and interact to produce an “entourage effect,” a synergistic process thought to give CBD a wider reach as far as its health benefits.

Erica Garza is an author and essayist. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, The Telegraph and VICE. She lives in Los Angeles.

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