You’ve probably heard about or experienced the euphoria or “high” caused by the THC in cannabis, and might have felt the energizing, relaxing, or sleep-inducing effects as well.
The plant is also known for its ability to treat migraines, chronic pain, joint stiffness, skin conditions, and much more, and it also causes some interesting minor side effects. But why does cannabis affect the body like it does? This article explores the journey marijuana compounds take through the body and the chemical interactions that give us the results side effects that may or may not be medically helpful.
When Cannabis Enters the Body
How Quickly Does Cannabis Take Effect?
Cannabis can begin to affect the body very quickly. After consumption, the first effects can appear within seconds if the substance is smoked or applied sublingually (under the tongue), after a few minutes when vaporizing, or as much as an hour or two later, in the case of edibles.If cannabis is inhaled, it is released almost immediately into the bloodstream, which carries the cannabinoids to the brain and other organs in the body. It is during this journey CB1 and CB2 receptors – which are found all over the body – begin linking to cannabinoids such as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), mistaking them for endocannabinoids. Fatty tissues also absorb THC.
How Long Do The Effects of Marijuana Last?
Cannabis affects the body for different lengths of time, depending on the potency of the strain, and the tolerance of the patient. In most users, the effects of an average dose will not last longer than four hours.
Effects of Mairjuana In the Brain
What Are Endocannabinoids?
The body naturally produces chemicals such as neurotransmitters, which are known as endocannabinoids. These compounds are incredibly similar to the natural compounds found in cannabis, called cannabinoids; that’s why cannabis has such a wide range of effects on our brains and bodies.Once the cannabinoids have worked their way up, they begin to alter the reactions1 of various parts of the brain by liking to receptors, much the way an endocannabinoid would. This connection either alters or blocks the neurons’ ability to interact with the cells in the body.
THC and Anandamide
THC is very similar to a neurotransmitter naturally created by the body: anandamide, which is also known as the “bliss molecule”2.
Since anandamide and dopamine – another neurotransmitter than promotes happy feelings (pleasure/reward) – often work together, cannabis prompts the body to produce more dopamine to go along with the increased “anandamide” (which is really a combination of existing anandamide and THC). This increase contributes to the carefree, relaxed attitude for which cannabis users are known.
Dopamine and Marijuana
Another well-known result of the cannabis “high” can be uncontrollable giggling. This occurence may be due to increased blood flow to the right frontal lobe, where humour is processed and appreciated. The increase in dopamine – as well as endorphins – is conducive to laughter, as well.Dopamine also plays a role in cannabis’ tendency to alter our perception of time. Since it is one of the neurotransmitters that regulates our internal clock, having more of it tends to make time “speed up.” This inability to correctly monitor the passage of time may be due as well to altered blood flow to the cerebellum, where body timing is controlled. Body timing relates to coordination and balance, which are often affected by cannabis.
(As an aside: dopamine is also responsible for causing addition. Addiction to cannabis is possible, though the consequences, and withdrawal symptoms, are consideraly less dangerous than dangerous drugs.)
Cannabis and Memory
Memory is managed by the hippocampus region of the brain, where many cannabinoid receptors reside. When cannabinoids reach this part of the brain, they begin to affect the user’s ability to form short term memories. THC causes over-stimulation of the neurons, which results in interruptions to memory storage. This is why people on cannabis often sound “spacey”, or are unable to complete sentences.
It is generally agreed that this “brain damage” is temporary. Most research has shown cannabis has no lasting effect on the brain, and its ability to create brain cells or store memories. The exception is adolescents and teenagers, whose brains are still developing. Cannabis is not recommended for young people, and they should be very careful when using it, even for purely medicinal reasons.
Body Effects of Cannabis
Increased Heartrate From MarijuanaTechnically, most of the “body” effects of cannabis are really due to the way cannabis is affecting the brain. One of the most immediate body effects of cannabis is an increase in heartrate – as many as 20 to 50 additional beats per minute. This happens because cannabis increases bloodflow to the brain; more blood means the heart must pump harder to deliver it.
In many users, increased heartrate is not detrimental, as long as the user is expecting it and doesn’t grow anxious. For those with existing heart conditions, however, a higher bpm for that extended period of time – often two or three hours – can be dangerous.
Why Does Marijuana Make My Mouth Dry?
“Cotton mouth”, or a very dry mouth, is another common symptom of cannabis use. This occurs when the THC binds to glands in the floor of the mouth, effectively blocking these glands from receiving the neurotransmitters that would command them to produce saliva. As such, saliva production is slowed considerably. It is always important to remain well hydrated when using cannabis.
Why Does Cannabis Cause The Munchies?
Another body effect that begins in the brain is the well-known “munchies” effect; when using cannabis, patients often feel intense food cravings. The desire to eat is controlled by the hypothalamus region of the brain. The above-mentioned increase of blood flow can provide an artificial boost to this appetite regulation, making the user feel hungry, and also making food seem to taste better.
This effect can be very useful to patients with eating disorders, or who are undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy, which tends to quash the appetite.
Will Cannabis Make Me Sleepy?
Finally, cannabis is known for making the user feel lethargic, or sleepy. It is believed THC and CBD imitate endocannabinoids that regulate sleep. This causes alterations to the natural sleep/wake cycle. Some strains, however, have an opposite effect, making the user feel more alert.
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