Have you ever wondered what exactly marijuana does to your brain?
Cannabis has been around for thousands of years, dating back to around 4,000 B.C. The active ingredient in the plant is mainly tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. There are a host of other cannabinoids found in cannabis. The one studied the most along side of THC is cannabidiol, or CBD.
Cannabinoids are concentrated in the hair-like structures of the plant, which are called trichomes. The sole purpose of trichomes are to protect the cannabis plant from being eaten by animals and insects. As the plant ripens, THC rich resin and oil glands start to appear concentrated around the future flowers, known as buds.
So by now, you should understand how THC is formed, but what exactly does marijuana do to your brain?
Short answer, we still do not know all of the details on how exactly THC works. What we do know is that THC primarily effects the cannabinoid receptors: The CB1 receptors.
CB1 receptors are are responsible for short term memory, motor skills, and complex problem solving. They are located everywhere throughout our body, but the area where they are most prominently found are within the brain.
The tiny cells in our brains, called neurons, are composed of a body (nucleus) and little arms, called dendrites, that receive in coming information. The information is then transferred across the cell to the axons, where the signal is passed on. At the neurons endings, known as the terminal buttons, is where the magic happens. The messenger between neurons that transfers information is called a neurotransmitter. Dopamine is held in check by inhibitory neurotransmitters, which block the dopamine release.
Anandamide, a natural cannabinoid created by our body which regulates our hunger, mood, memory, briefly stops these inhibitory transmitters from blocking the release of dopamine. THC has a unique property where it looks exactly like anandamide and fits perfectly into our CB1 receptors. The difference between THC and anadamide is that THC allows the release of dopamine everywhere and it works longer, causing a euphoric, or high sensation.
When you feel relaxed, THC is actively slowing down the cerebellum and basal ganglia. These regions are involved in motor control and balance. When their functions are influenced, they become very slow. THC also effects the neocortex and the hippocampus, which is responsible for storing memory.
Happy feelings come from the activation of the reward centers in the brain such as the nucleus accumbens, which makes you feel good when you eat chocolate, have sex, or listen to music.
If you feel anxious or panicky from cannabis, then that’s the amygdala’s fault. It regulates emotional responses such as fight or flight.
Okay, so THC can be a bit much for some people to handle, but what about CBD?
The special thing about CBD is that is has been shown to counteract some of the effects of THC. This leads researchers to believe that cannabidiol is the source of the calming and sedative effects of cannabis. As the plant naturally makes THC and CBD, breeding to increase the levels of THC leads to a decrease in the amount of CBD that the plant contains, which is not always a good thing.
The overall effects of marijuana greatly depends on how you use it.
Whether you like to smoke, vape or consume cannabis by eating it, each delivery method produces a different effect the body and mind. If you’ve ever had too much of an edible, then you’ve probably experienced a longer drawn out high compared to smoking or vaping it. The truth is that cannabis has biphasic effects, meaning that a little bit will influence your feelings very differently than a large dose.
Everyone’s body chemistry is different. There really is not one-size fits all dose to consuming cannabis. The best advice anyone can give you when it comes to ingesting THC is to start off slow and track your doses. A large dose to you might just seem like a small dose to the next person.