The Science of Getting High: How THC Affects Your Body


Some stoners are pathologically incurious — they simply don’t care how weed works; they only care that it does. While there is something to be said for the importance of picking the best strains from your Oregon dispensary, it can also be useful to understand why cannabis is making you feel a certain way. How THC Affects Your Body-

Marijuana isn’t magic. Though research on reefer only began relatively recently, we know a good amount of the science behind getting high. The process starts with a newly discovered system that plays a significant role in keeping the human body functioning properly — even when it is overcome with cannabis.

The Endocannabinoid System

Discovered in 1990 in the course of studying cannabis, the endocannabinoid system is how psychoactive cannabinoids make users high. When cannabis compounds enter your blood stream, they are ferried to receptors of the endocannabinoid system, which are located all over the body but concentrated in areas like the central and peripheral nervous systems, the digestive system and the muscular system. There, cannabinoids cause various effects, like euphoria and confusion in the brain, increased appetite in the digestive system and reduced tension throughout the muscles.

The endocannabinoid system is located in so many places in the body because it is so critical to the overall function of so many systems. Research has found that all animals have an endocannabinoid system, indicating that it evolved extremely early and is extremely important. Currently, researchers can’t be certain about the primary role of the endocannabinoid system, but a number of incredibly vital roles have been uncovered through study, to include:

  • The formation and storage of long-term memory
  • The growth of new brain cells
  • The stimulation of appetite
  • The maintenance of metabolic homeostasis
  • The release of stress hormones
  • The regulation of female fertility
  • The activation of immune response
  • The promotion of sleep
  • The communication of pain

The endocannabinoid system creates its own compounds, called endocannabinoids, to manifest these different effects in different parts of the body. One endocannabinoid, called anandamide, looks suspiciously similar to THC, the dominant psychoactive compound in cannabis. Thus, when you introduce cannabis into your body, THC causes the body to replicate the effects of anandamide.

Anandamide has a nickname: the bliss molecule. While the compound seems to have several effects, its most obvious involve helping the body and mind to feel good. As with THC, anandamide interferes with pain and stimulates euphoria — but because THC is typically present in much greater quantities than anandamide, the effects it manifests tend to be much more intense. Researchers believe that cannabinoids like THC tend to overwhelm the endocannabinoid system, causing it to malfunction — which is what makes users feel high.

The Entourage Effect

THC might be the most plentiful cannabinoid, but it isn’t the only compound in cannabis that has an effect on the human body and mind. Some researchers believe that other cannabinoids function almost identically to THC, binding with endocannabinoid receptors and causing those receptors to manifest particular effects.

However, some cannabis compounds do not bind to endocannabinoid receptors — like CBD. Though CBD was once thought to bind to receptors in the immune system and muscles, research has found that not to be the case. Now, researchers believe that CBD influences the endocannabinoid system in some way, perhaps to produce more of its own natural endocannabinoids or perhaps not to bind to THC in such significant quantities.

Along with cannabinoids, which are unique compounds found only in cannabis, weed plants also produce terpenes, which are responsible for the aromatic bouquet found in different strains. Researchers believe that terpenes can have small but impactful effects on human physiology and psychology. Terpenes might bind to the endocannabinoid system, to the nervous system or to another system entirely.

CBD, other cannabinoids and terpenes likely exert an entourage effect alongside THC, affecting how users experience the cannabis high. Some believe that the entourage effect works to mitigate the sometimes-intense effects of THC, allowing the high to be more enjoyable; others believe the entourage effect results in different sensations altogether, like energy vs. sedation or confusion vs. clarity and focus. Regardless, this is certainly a section of cannabis consumption that deserves more attention from researchers.

The more you know about how cannabis works in your body, the better equipped you are to find cannabis products that suit your needs. Now, you can impress your fellow stoners with your knowledge about the endocannabinoid system, anandamide, the entourage effect and other details behind the science of getting high.

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