Your Brain on POT
For centuries, humans have been using substances to alter their state of mind from caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol, to more extreme drugs. But, as the most commonly-used illicit drug in North America, where does marijuana fit in and how exactly does it’s cannabinoids affect the brain?
First, we need to understand how the brain functions. Your neurons are the cells that process information in the brain by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. From the axon of one neuron to the dendrite of another, they change the electrical charge of the receiving neuron, consequently exciting or inhibiting it. If excited, the signals passes on though. These signals work together, and the effect is quickly compounded into complex configurations within milliseconds, flushing over the entire brain. This is what happens every single time you think, breathe or move.
Whats Going On When Cannabinoids Affect the Brain
Unlike alcohol, which contains molecules nothing like those in our body, cannabis contains molecules that resemble those produced in our very own brains: cannabinoids. Though, naturally, these cannabinoids circulate in much lower quantities compared to the large influx imposed by smoking. Specifically, the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) resembles a natural transmitter in the brain, that is released when neurons are firing. The neurons temporarily become unresponsive after firing to prevent them from overreacting or being too dominant. This allows your brain to function in a calm and controlled manner, but cannabinoids interrupt this approach in some parts of the brain. Instead, they remove the refractory period of neurons that are already active, and cause your thoughts, imagination and perception to utterly magnify itself.
Once you begin your train of thought it becomes the most significant and profound thing ever. You can’t see the big picture or even recall your last epiphany because you’re caught up in the momentum of a particular idea, and your neurons keep firing until a new idea takes hold and you go off on a new tangent. Subsequently, it’s really not a good time to drive, study for a test, or play sports that require coordination, when high because of how the cannabinoids affect the brain.
Like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, cannabinoids also affect the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain, often leading to a sense of euphoria, relaxation, pain modulation, and general enhancement of an experience; though sometimes causing anxiety.
Cannabis contains at least 60 types of cannabinoids, chemical compounds that act on receptors throughout our brain. Because cannabis is still a controlled substance federally in America and become legal relatively recently in Canada more testing is needed. THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s effects, including the euphoric high. THC resembles another cannabinoid naturally produced in our brains, anandamide, which regulates our mood, sleep, memory, and appetite.