In the last few years especially, pharmacology is focusing a lot more on researching the cannabis plant and the benefits it may provide in treating medical conditions. As some of you may know, CBD oil has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, and current research is focusing on uncovering even more potential benefits that come from using it. As a result of legalization laws around the US, the FDA has even approved some cannabis-derived products containing cannabidiol like Epidiolex, Dronabinol, and Nabilone, so the medical cannabis market is expected to exponentially grow in the future.
That is also true for the recreational marijuana market. More and more people flock to the psychoactive world of cannabis in search of relaxation and sedation as a way to de-stress from everyday life. But how does our body process cannabis, and what component gets users high? Read on to find out.
Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the one that maintains homeostasis in the body by regulating metabolism, memory, appetite, intracellular communication, and other functions. Without the ECS, cannabis wouldn’t be able to have any effect on users, so let’s see how the two are connected.
The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), and the enzymes that synthesize and degrade the endocannabinoids. The cannabis plant, on the other hand, contains cannabinoids, the two most popular ones being CBD and THC.
The way that cannabis interacts with the ECS is through its two types of cannabinoid receptors – CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. Both affect different functions in the body, and each cannabinoid in weed binds to and affects a different cannabinoid receptor in the ECS, therefore producing different effects.
These receptors are responsible for the effects of marijuana on the body and the central nervous system, meaning, they’re the ones that enable us to feel the high in weed. As you might already know, one cannabinoid, in particular, is responsible for producing the high – and that’s tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. (National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2021)
Cannabinoids (THC vs CBD) and Terpenes Found in Weed
Cannabis is a complex plant made up of more than 400 chemical compounds. The most important among them are terpenes and cannabinoids. Terpenes give weed its aroma and flavor, while cannabinoids affect the body and the central nervous system.
While there are a lot of other cannabinoids present in weed, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most popular and most researched ones. The former gives us the psychoactive effects, or the “high,” while the latter has sedative and anti-inflammatory properties, and can be used as a treatment for some medical conditions.
Once the cannabinoids enter the body, they affect the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, and cannabis users start to feel the resulting effects from smoking weed. THC in particular gives users feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and a heightened sensitivity to sound, touch, light, and smell. (National Academies of Sciences, Washington DC, 2017)
THC and the Brain
Recreational marijuana users get the pleasurable “high” as a result of the interaction between the cannabinoids in marijuana, like THC, and the central nervous system. Apart from the “high” users get as a result of the increased THC levels in the body, THC also stimulates the brain’s reward system and increases the levels of dopamine in the body.
Since it has a similar chemical structure to the brain chemical anandamide, THC alters the amount of neurotransmitters that get released from neurons. Moreover, by affecting the frontal lobe in the brain, THC also affects short-term memory, motivation, and attention.
However, long-term cannabis use and consuming high doses of cannabis may cause a dysfunction in the frontal lobe. On the one hand, cannabinoids affect the function of the hippocampus and the orbitofrontal cortex, which means they affect the creation of new memories and focus. On the other hand, they disrupt the function of the cerebellum and basal ganglia, which results in problems with balance, coordination, and reaction time. This is why people under the influence of marijuana shouldn’t drive.
Methods of Consuming Cannabis
To get the effects of cannabis, cannabis users can choose from a variety of consumption methods. The most popular ones include:
- Inhaling cannabis (smoking and vaping) is the most popular marijuana consumption method, and to smoke cannabis you can use joints, blunts, pipes, bongs, vape pens, or dabs.
- Ingesting cannabis is a marijuana consumption method where you consume cannabis orally in the form of edibles like weed brownies, gummies, chocolates, or sublingually, by using tinctures under your tongue.
- Applying cannabis topically involves various creams, lotions, salves, and other cannabis products that are applied on the skin (to relieve muscle pain or soreness).
Side Effects of Marijuana Use
Even though cannabis can have therapeutic effects on users (the reason why a lot of medical marijuana patients are using it), as well as psychoactive effects on users (the reason why a lot of recreational users consume it), excessive use of the cannabis plant may result in some side effects.
According to various resources, the most common short-term side effects of cannabis consumption are:
- Cottonmouth and bloodshot eyes;
- Impaired reaction time and motor coordination (may impact driving skills);
- Anxiety, paranoia, panic, hallucinations;
- Feeling tired, sluggish;
- Problems with short-term memory.
Long-term and excessive cannabis use may lead to other health complications like:
- Loss of motivation and apathy;
- Progressive decline of the immune system;
- Decreased attention span;
- Anxiety and depression;
- Risk of triggering schizophrenia or psychosis for patients who have a genetic predisposition for these conditions.
Final Thoughts on What Gets You High in Weed
Using cannabis for recreational purposes is becoming more and more popular as new legalization laws are passed around the US. So far, 17 US states have already legalized the recreational use of cannabis, and more states are expected to legalize it in the following years.
Even though marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I drug on a federal level, a large number of people are consuming cannabis in search of the pleasurable high that THC gives them. This versatile plant is consumed via smoking, ingesting, and topical application, and its use is only expected to grow in the following years. According to a recent analysis, the marijuana market was valued at USD 24.6 billion in 2020, and it’s expected to grow about 14.3% each year.
Cannabis is becoming the most used drug around the world, and THC is becoming the go-to cannabinoid if you want to ride that “high.” If you do consume it, make sure you use it responsibly, so relax, and light up.
NIDA. 2021, April 13. How does marijuana produce its effects?. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/how-does-marijuana-produce-its-effects on 2021, May 7
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Jan 12. 4, Therapeutic Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425767/