THC metabolism: How does cannabis get metabolized in your body?

by Carter Toni

The complete process of altering and converting medications from one chemical form to another is known as drug metabolism. That process starts when a material enters our bodies and continues until the substance is eliminated.

The body’s metabolism is often described as “breaking down” substances; however, metabolism adds new molecules to the chemical structure in most situations. As it turns out, the bigger the chemical becomes, the simpler it is to get rid of it from your system.

Because the liver has a significant number of enzymes, drug metabolism occurs there in general. These enzymes protect us from toxins in the environment by acting as a key filtering mechanism for the body. However, drug metabolism does not occur only in the liver; it may occur in any biological tissue in the human body. Even though these other organs are engaged to a lesser amount, the liver is the major organ in charge of metabolism — particularly for items we eat or take by mouth.

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The drug metabolism process is divided into two stages:

In phase 1, enzymes start a chemical process that oxidizes the medication and makes it more water-soluble. While this phase may yield simple substances to remove from the body, many chemicals aren’t yet ready for removal.

The medication is frequently connected to a bigger, more excretal molecule in phase 2 when the changed chemical compounds go through another round of chemical processes. This transition, which is catalyzed by another family of enzymes known as transferee’s enzymes or UTGs, allows the molecules to become water-soluble and, therefore, be removed from the body.

Cannabis activation in the body

All cannabinoids including, delta 8 THC, Delta 9 THC and Delta 10 THC, begin their lives in an acidic state. There isn’t much THC or CBD in raw cannabis flowers, such as those used for smoking, vamping, or producing edibles. Instead, we identify their acidic precursors, THCA and CBDA.

While these cannabis acids have active therapeutic properties occasionally, they vary significantly from their well-known neutral versions. THCA, for example, has anti-inflammatory properties similar to THC but does not cause a euphoric high.

When THCA undergoes a process known as decarboxylation, THC becomes active. Decarboxylation is normally triggered by heat; thus, it happens when you burn or heat cannabis to smoke or evaporate it. CBDA and the other minor cannabinoids are in the same boat. Decarboxylation, often known as “activation” cannabis, is a key step in manufacturing cannabis edibles at home.

What is the first step in the metabolism of THC?

Cannabinoids like THC may start causing their intended effects after being eaten, absorbed into the circulation, and dispersed to tissues throughout the body.

THC’s journey through your body is mostly determined by how you eat it. Cannabinoids and terpenes move quickly from the lungs to the blood and brain when breathed. HOWEVER, when THC is ingested, the route to the blood and brain is more complicated. Orally consumed cannabis must first pass via the liver before being absorbed. Any cannabinoids delivered to the liver will be processed by the cells in your liver, a process known as first-pass metabolism.

While metabolic transformations are mostly carried out in the liver (because of the large concentration of enzymes), cannabis metabolism may also occur in other organs. THC, for example, has been proven to be processed in the brain in experiments.

Metabolism of THC the first phase involves the production of 11-OH-THC

The first phase of metabolism involves hydroxylation and oxidation. Certain enzymes hydroxylase a portion of the cannabinoid’s structure during this phase, adding an oxygen and hydrogen molecule to it.

THC is used, resulting in the formation of 11-OH-THC, a pharmacologically active metabolite with sedative and psychoactive properties.

When someone has smoked cannabis, we detect lower amounts of 11-OH-THC in their blood plasma than when they have eaten cannabis. When THC is consumed, it first travels via the digestive system, which implies it passes through the liver. As a result, more THC is metabolized by the liver and transformed into 11-OH-THC in edible cannabis before entering circulation.

When THC is consumed, it initially travels via the digestive system, which implies it passes through the liver. THC-COOH, an inactive metabolite that is one of the main end products of cannabis usage, is produced when the same family of enzymes oxidizes 11-OH-THC. THC-COOH concentrations have usually steadily grown and are observed at greater levels than THC concentrations 30-45 minutes after smoking.

While 11-OH-THC is a very active metabolite in the body, THC-COOH is an inactive metabolite that can no longer attach to cannabinoid receptors and is assumed to have no medical use.  Other cannabinoids, like CBD, go through a similar metabolization process, resulting in a variety of metabolites. CBD metabolism, like THC metabolism, varies depending on the route of ingestion. CBD is not well absorbed, and part of the substance goes through the system unaltered, ending up in the feces.

Surprisingly, the enzymes responsible for phase 1 metabolization might differ from person to person because of hereditary variables. As a result, some individuals process THC and CBD differently than others. Some people are more likely to fail a drug test due to a larger concentration of cannabis in their system, while others feel the psychotropic effects longer.

Phase 2 of THC Metabolism: Cannabis leaves the body

The purpose of phase 2 is to get the medication ready to leave the body. UGT enzymes may bind a glucuronide molecule to THC-COOH in this phase. It converts the drug into a THC-COOH-glucuronide molecule, easily excreted from the body in urine and feces. The medication is ready to be removed from the body after being converted to this metabolite.


THC and (mainly) its metabolites are eliminated 80-90 percent of the time, with more than 65 percent going via the feces and 20 percent going through the urine. But the narrative doesn’t stop there. Some THC metabolites will stay tied up in tissue and released at a slower rate. It is why, for some cannabis users, THC metabolites may be found weeks after usage and often longer for individuals with extra body fat (THC-COOH storage space).

What’s more astonishing is that the method and the consequences vary greatly depending on the route of administration. Nonetheless, this unique mechanism allows cannabis to enter our system, provide its astonishing benefits, and then escape our system without piling up, allowing medicinal cannabis to be used.

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