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11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC)

Ethan Parker

Written by: Ethan Parker

Updated on December 20, 2023

What is 11-hydroxy-THC-(11-OH-THC)

For anyone who has experienced the psychoactive effects of cannabis, THC might be a familiar term, but 11-hydroxy-THC could be new to some. Here, you’ll learn what 11-hydroxy-THC is, its impact on the body, and how to ensure you don’t overindulge in this potent psychoactive compound.

What is the11-hydroxy-THC?

11-Hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC), sometimes referred to as 11-OH-Δ9-THC or 7-OH-Δ1-THC, is a key chemical compound found in cannabis. Its formation begins with THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) in fresh cannabis, which, through aging and heating, is converted into THC. Once THC is consumed, it first passes through the liver, where it is metabolized by the liver enzyme CYP2C9 into 11-hydroxy-THC, and then further transformed into 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC. This metabolic process, particularly when THC is ingested orally, significantly increases the concentration of 11-hydroxy-THC in the blood, a phenomenon known as the “first-pass effect” or “first-pass metabolism.” Oral ingestion of THC is more likely to convert to 11-hydroxy-THC compared to inhalation through smoking or vaping, as THC directly enters the bloodstream through the lungs, bypassing extensive liver metabolism.

11-Hydroxy-THC is the primary active metabolite of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is generally considered to be more potent than its precursor, THC. The formation of this metabolite in the body is facilitated by the liver enzyme cytochrome P2C9 or CYP2C9. Even during smoking, a portion of THC is converted to 11-hydroxy-THC by the liver, but oral consumption of cannabis results in a greater production of 11-OH-THC. The first-pass metabolism is a key factor that contributes to the intense impact of 11-OH-THC on the brain, making oral administration more potent and longer-lasting in its effects on the brain and body compared to inhalation. In fact, 11-OH-THC can produce a more intense psychoactive experience than the cannabinoid THC itself.

Studies Concerning 11-hydroxy-THC

The available research on 11-hydroxy-THC demonstrates the metabolite’s potency. For example, one study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that 11-OH-THC is “much more potent at producing a subjective high and racing heart than delta-9″

In animal studies, 11-hydroxy-THC has been found to be more potent than delta-9-THC. One 2020 study on rodents published in the journal Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry found the potency of 11-hydroxy-THC to be somewhere between 1.5 and 7 times more potent than delta-9 in certain animals and tests.

The reason for this much higher potency partially attributable to the metabolite’s higher binding affinity for the CB1 receptor which physically binds more tightly to the receptor than delta-9. Basically, the better it binds, the better it activates the receptor.

How 11-hydroxy-THC Impacts the Human Body?

11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC) exerts its effects by binding to CB1 receptors and mimicking all known actions of delta-9-THC, and is considered to be approximately 2-3 times more potent than THC. This compound reaches peak blood concentration about an hour and a half after ingestion and can last for eight hours or more, depending on the dosage. Due to its prolonged effects, 11-OH-THC is particularly useful for internal medicine patients, as it can aid in sedation and promote sleep, especially in the treatment of chronic pain and insomnia. However, due to its strong psychoactive effects, those who are intolerant to THC may find its impact overwhelming.

It’s important to note that orally ingested THC undergoes a digestion process, thus taking longer to take effect, approximately 1-2 hours. Although the sedative effect of 11-OH-THC may not always be desirable, especially when consuming cannabis at midday, fortunately, there are methods to limit the consumption of 11-OH-THC to avoid any adverse psychoactive impacts. Current research on how 11-hydroxy-THC affects the brain and body is limited, but its extended duration of action and potential for greater psychoactivity suggest it has potential medical applications.

Why Consume Edibles Can Feel More Potent?

The heightened intensity felt from consuming cannabis edibles is primarily attributed to 11-hydroxy-THC, a metabolic byproduct of THC. When cannabis is smoked, THC is directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and quickly reaches the brain. In contrast, when consuming cannabis edibles, THC must first pass through the digestive system, where it is partially metabolized in the liver to produce 11-hydroxy-THC, before entering the bloodstream and ultimately reaching the brain.

The key lies in the conversion of THC to 11-hydroxy-THC during the digestive process in the liver. This metabolite is more active than THC itself. Early studies have shown that compared to THC, 11-hydroxy-THC results in a quicker onset of effects and a more intense psychoactive experience. Moreover, oral consumption of THC leads to a significantly higher production of 11-hydroxy-THC in the body than inhalation. This explains why the same dosage of cannabis edibles feels more potent and psychoactive than when cannabis is inhaled.

How to Avoid Cosuming Too Much 11-hydroxy-THC?

To avoid consuming too much 11-hydroxy-THC, especially when using cannabis edibles, you can follow these guidelines:

  • Start with a Low Dose: Begin with a small amount, particularly if you are new to cannabis edibles or have a low tolerance. A low dose typically means 5-10 mg of THC for edibles.
  • Wait for the Effects: Edibles take longer to kick in, often 1-2 hours, sometimes longer. Avoid the temptation to consume more if you don’t feel the effects immediately.
  • Understand Potency: Be aware of the THC content in the edible product you are using. Products can vary greatly in potency, so always check the label for THC mg per serving.
  • Avoid Mixing with Alcohol or Other Substances: Mixing cannabis with alcohol or other substances can intensify the effects and make it more difficult to gauge your reaction to THC.
  • Stay Hydrated and Eat a Meal: Consuming edibles on an empty stomach can lead to more intense effects. It’s advisable to eat a meal before consuming edibles and stay hydrated.

Conclusion

11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC) is a more potent metabolite of THC, especially prevalent in oral cannabis consumption. It binds more effectively to CB1 receptors, leading to a stronger psychoactive experience than THC. This explains why edibles often feel more intense compared to smoking cannabis. To avoid excessive intake of 11-OH-THC, it’s important to start with low doses, understand product potency, and wait for effects before consuming more. This approach helps manage its potent effects, particularly useful in medical applications like sedation and sleep aid.

Ethan Parker
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