How does cannabis get you high?
How do marijuana’s psychoactive properties work?
Have you ever looked at your hands? I mean really looked at your hands?
You might think you have, but as the above classic Doonesbury cartoon implies, people who are high on cannabis may perceive mundane objects to be far more fascinating than usual.
How is it that a plant that first emerged on what’s now the Tibetan Plateau can change humans’ perception of reality? The secret lies in a class of compounds called cannabinoids. While cannabis plants are known to produce at least 140 types of cannabinoids, there’s one that’s largely responsible for many of the effects of feeling high. It’s called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
When a person smokes or inhales cannabis, THC “goes into your lungs and gets absorbed … into the blood,” according to Daniele Piomelli, a professor of anatomy & neurobiology, biological chemistry, and pharmacology at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. Edibles take slightly longer trip through the liver, where enzymes transform THC into a different compound that takes a bit longer to have an effect on people’s perception of reality.
THC that’s inhaled “reaches pretty high levels fairly quickly,” Piomelli told Live Science. Within 20 minutes, the circulatory system is carrying molecules of THC to every tissue in the body, including the brain, where it can alter neural chemistry.
“From the lungs, it’s a pretty straight shot to the brain,” according to Kelly Drew, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The THC molecules that pass the blood-brain barrier will find that they fit snugly into receptors that ordinarily receive compounds called endocannabinoids, which the body produces itself. These receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in several functions, including stress, food intake, metabolism and pain, according to Piomelli, who also directs the Center for the Study of Cannabis at UC Irvine.
“The endocannabinoid system is the most pervasive, diffused and important modulatory system in the brain because it controls the release of pretty much every neurotransmitter,” Piomelli said. Neurotransmitters are molecules that brain cells, or neurons, use to communicate with each other. One neuron sends a message to the next by releasing neurotransmitters, such as dopamine or serotonin, into an infinitesimal gap that separates one neuron from the next. The gap is called the synapse.
The neuron on the receiving end of the synapse is called the postsynaptic neuron, and it “decides whether to fire based on the input it receives,” Drew told Live Science. These neural signals cascade through intricate circuits of neural connections that function on a tremendous scale; there are about 85 billion neurons in the brain and as many as 100 trillion connections among them.
The presynaptic neuron sends neurotransmitters across the synapse to the postsynaptic neuron, Piomelli said. But the presynaptic neuron can also receive information. When a postsynaptic neuron has fired, it can send a message across the synapse that says, “the neuron I come from has been activated,” stop sending neurotransmitters, Piomelli said. It sends this “stop” message in the form of endocannabinoids that bind to a receptor called cannabinoid 1 (CB1).
“Like a sledgehammer”
When THC enters the brain, the molecules diffuse into the synapses where they “activate CB1 receptors,” Drew said. THC doesn’t cause the most extreme possible response like some synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 or spice, but it does “turn up the volume” and increase the likelihood that the presynaptic neuron it affects will temporarily stop sending neurotransmitters, she said.
“The high is a very simple phenomenon, Piomelli said. “THC comes in like a sledgehammer,” flooding the endocannabinoid system with signals the postsynaptic neurons didn’t send. When presynaptic neurons across the brain get the memo to stop sending neurotransmitters, this alters the normal flow of information among neurons and results in a high.
Scientists have yet to decipher exactly what happens during this euphoria, however.
That’s because, in part, U.S. legal restrictions make it difficult to study cannabis. But from what researchers have gathered so far, THC appears to temporarily “unplug” the default mode network. This is the brain network that allows us to daydream and think about the past and future. When our brains are focused on a specific task, we quiet this network to let our executive function take control.
There’s evidence that THC has a significant effect on the network, but researchers aren’t quite sure how it happens. There are cannabinoid receptors all over the brain, including in “areas that constitute the key nodes of the [default mode network],” Piomelli said. It could be “that THC deactivates the [default mode network] by combining with those receptors,” but it’s also possible that THC quiets the network through an “indirect effect that involves cannabinoid receptors in other brain regions.”
Scientists are still working to find the mechanisms that result in a person feeling high, but there’s some reason to think this effect on the default mode network is a significant piece of the puzzle.
Unplugging the default mode network “takes us into a mental place where the function of the things we experience is less important than the things themselves: our hands are no longer just something we use for touching or grabbing, but something with inner existence and intrinsic value,” Piomelli said. Psychedelics, such as LSD or dried psilocybin-containing mushrooms, do the same thing.
However, people can experience highs differently. “The feeling of becoming fascinated by and ‘connected’ with ordinary things, things we see and use every day, is not universal but does happen, especially when high doses of THC-containing cannabis are used,” Piomelli said.
THC doesn’t just affect the default mode network. It may also, in the short-term, flood the brain with dopamine, the brain’s reward signal, according to a 2017 study in the journal Nature. (Long-term, it may blunt dopamine’s effects, the study found.) That, in part, may explain some of the euphoria associated with a high, and places cannabis in the company of other drugs that people use to feel pleasure.
“Every drug that has rewarding properties affects that system,” Drew said.
The effects of a high from cannabis that’s smoked or inhaled typically last for a few hours, though it can take edibles almost that long to start affecting users. And while cannabis isn’t the dangerous substance it was made out to be in the 20th century, using it comes with some risk. For one, while cannabis is legal for recreational and medical use in some states, it’s still illegal in many parts of the country.
It’s also important to bear in mind that cannabis is a potent pharmacological substance. Cannabis can cross the placenta, so pregnant people should avoid it. And “heavy use in the teenage years can be problematic,” Piomelli said. For instance, cannabis — and especially synthetic cannabinoids like spice — can exacerbate psychosis. “People who are at risk for that should not smoke it,” Drew said.
Finally, cannabis does affect the ability to drive, particularly in occasional users. Drew cautioned that people should not drive for three hours after smoking.
Eventually, the THC will leave the brain; the profusion of blood that brought THC into the brain will carry it to the liver, where it will be destroyed and expelled in urine.
And you’re not gonna believe this, but your hands — they were the same the whole time.
Originally published on Live Science.
IMHO, drugs which do not easily cause overdose deaths (like THC, LSD etc) should/must be legally treated same as alcohol (which is really just another kind of drug (which do not easily cause overdose deaths))!
IMHO, just like prohibition of alcohol had caused so much crime in the past (& that is why it had been forced to be repealed later), prohibition of other similar drugs causing so much easily preventable crime today!
We need to take lesson from our past.
It gives people relief without vice.
This is precisely why it has been vilified for so long. You cannot have such things. Fun, pleasure and relief without vice?
That is blasphemy of the highest order for the “divinely” inspired. In their distorted concept of “dealing with life”, you have to tough it out. Anything which circumvents such rigors in life is sinful.
It reminds one of the famous counter-culture response: “Reality is for people who cannot deal with drugs.”
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Taking a Break From Smoking Weed But Still Wanna Get Stoned?
Looking to get high while you self-isolate but don’t want to smoke weed? There are plenty of other ways to get the job done and some users are turning to alternatives in light of the current pandemic we’re experiencing. With coronavirus affecting the respiratory systems of those it infects, limiting smoke exposure on the lungs may be a wise decision.
But with edibles, tinctures, capsules, and other smoke-free ways to get high, it can be difficult to decide how to go about it. Why not try many ways? We’ve rounded up some of our favorite products from our Washington dispensary locations to pair with different at-home activities.
Make breakfast and start your day with a tincture
We advise against starting your day with cannabis if you work from home. However, if you have the day off or are not currently working at this time, a wake and bake session is in order. With a bit of a twist.
Starting your day with the Awake spray tincture from Green Revolution is a great choice, especially if you wake up and struggle to get out of bed, get breakfast on the stove, and really get started.
The spray combines the energizing effects of sativa with CBG and green tea extract. With 2.5 mg of THC per spray, it’s super easy to measure your dose and keep it controlled. Since it’s designed to energize, you won’t find yourself unable to get out of bed like the usual wake and bake scenario.
Pop open a cannabis soda for gaming or watching movies
Playing video games and watching movies have several things in common. You’re sitting in one place, your attention is on a screen, and you’re probably in the mood to snack.
Make it a movie theater experience and pop some popcorn to pair with a tasty cannabis soda. Our Bellingham dispensary has a classic cola from Olala, the perfect treat to pair with popcorn or potato chips. We’ve also got plenty of Ray’s infused lemonades and other treats across our Washington dispensary locations to satisfy your sweet tooth.
When you drink a cannabis soda, expect the effects to start taking place anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. If you’re not sure how high you’ll get from it, start slow and consider starting with a low-dose soda.
Soak in the tub with THC bath salts
Elevate your typical bath time experience with the help of THC bath salts. We love the Lavender Relax salts from CERES as they help provide a sense of calm and feel great on sore, achy muscles.
If you’re looking to relax and unwind, infused bath salts are the way to go. This brand also has several other products available, including CBD Moon Cycle bath salts. And while many of the products have THC, they won’t get you high in the way eating or smoking cannabis will. Instead, you’ll feel a sense of total body relaxation and relief.
Spice up a meal with infused ramen seasoning
The college students near our Bellingham dispensary can probably attest to the life-saving qualities of ramen. When you’re in a pinch and hungry, you’re only a few minutes away from a meal if you have some on hand.
We love the do-it-yourself doors that open with Lefty’s Ramen Seasoning. Whether you’re adding an extra kick to actual ramen, spicing up a different meal, or even sprinkling it on popcorn, you can’t go wrong with weed-infused seasoning packets.
Binge-watch TV with infused bon bombs
Ever wanted to “sit around, watch soap operas, and eat bonbons” all day? It may be an old, poorly-aged phrase mocking housewives, but we’d like to reclaim it. We’re doing the world a service by staying in right now, so why not make it the most enjoyable, laid back experience possible?
If you haven’t tried infused Bon Bombs from Verdelux, you’re missing out. There are several different varieties to suit everyone’s tastes, including some vegan options. They’re all gluten-free as well.
We highly suggest making a cozy, lazy afternoon of sitting around, eating bon bombs, and binge-watching a tv show. Make it something lighthearted or funny to keep your spirits high and allow your mind to focus on something other than the news for a change.
Be sure to plan out how many you plan to eat before you get distracted by mindless television. It’s hard to stop eating once you’ve had a taste.
De-stress with PTSFree capsules
While we’re making an effort to keep our customers safe and entertained during this time, we acknowledge the toll this situation can take on mental health. We’re in a stressful time of uncertainty and it can become overwhelming to cope with.
Taking walks around the block if you can, talking to support systems virtually, and practicing mindfulness can all help to relieve some of this stress, but sometimes we need a little more help.
We recommend Fairwinds PTSFree capsules. They’re not exclusively for people with PTSD and are designed to help anyone who is “seeking a shield for the noise of daily life.” The effects may be mildly intoxicating to some, but overall, the biggest sensation will be a sense of comfort.
If you find yourself anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed during this time, you’re not alone. Turning to less intoxicating products designed to comfort and relax may be the way to go.
Get ready for bed with a nighttime mint
If you’re one of the many people who use marijuana to unwind in the evening or help fall asleep at night, you’ll be happy to know there are plenty of ways to do so without smoking.
We love incorporating Moxey’s Mints in our nighttime routine. With several varieties ranging from CBD, THC, and combinations of the two, you’re bound to find one that suits your individual needs.
We love the Dream Lavender Mints because they combine the power of microdose THC and CBD with the soothing effects of lavender. They’re formulated to help relax users into sleepytime, not get them particularly high.
Our final thoughts
We hope our customers across all of our Washington dispensary locations and beyond are staying healthy and safe.
Many people are questioning whether they should be smoking right now or not. We encourage everyone to do their own research and make the best decision for themselves, taking into account their personal health and experiences.
If you’re choosing to abstain from smoking, there are so many ways to still get high. We hope our guide will help you to stay elevated during this whole ordeal.
Satori MJ is a recreational cannabis shop featuring many dispensary locations ! Check us on out on Yelp , Leafly , Instagram , Facebook , Google and Twitter.Looking to get high while you self-isolate but don’t want to smoke weed? There are plenty of other ways to get the job done and some users are turning to… ]]>