The effects of cannabis are caused by a family of compounds known as cannabinoids. The two most widely known cannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which has psychotropic effects, and cannabidiol (CBD), which does not.
The cannabinoid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, coordination, sensory and time perception. They are also found in the autonomic nervous system, which controls functions such as breathing, blood pressure and body temperature. When THC attaches to cannabinoid receptors in the brain it produces a range of effects including:
- Changes in perception
- Changes in mood or emotion
- Impaired coordination
- Difficulty with thinking and problem solving
- Memory problems
The effects of smoking cannabis-infused joints and eating marijuana-infused edibles are not the same. When you smoke a joint or vaporize cannabis, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) enters your bloodstream through your lungs and is distributed throughout your body to produce a high. When you eat an edible, on the other hand, the body absorbs THC more slowly because it must first pass through the liver before entering the bloodstream.
Depending on factors such as weight and tolerance, THC can stay in the blood for up to 30 days; for occasional users, traces may remain in the blood for around three days. It is also worth noting that traces of THC can remain in hair follicles for up to 90 days. Each time you smoke or ingest cannabis, these traces will increase.
The high from edibles can last anywhere from 4 to 12 hours depending on dosage and individual metabolism. Eating an edible that contains too much THC can lead to an unpleasant, sometimes frightening experience which is commonly referred to as a “bad trip.” The symptoms of a bad trip include paranoia and anxiety, among others. If you have exceeded your threshold and experience a bad trip, stay calm and wait it out – it will eventually pass!
When smoked, most cannabis users report an almost instantaneous effect. The psychoactive effects can be felt for as long as 4 hours, depending on the potency of the cannabis.
Cannabis induces feelings of euphoria or happiness, relaxation or calmness, altered perception and time lapse, increased appetite (the “munchies”), and in some cases, paranoia and anxiety. The typical experience is a pleasant one; however, there is a small risk of unpleasant feelings or adverse reactions to cannabis use.
The effects of cannabis are dose-dependent: as with many medications or recreational drugs, the higher the dose taken, the stronger the effects experienced. The mode of administration is also important. Cannabis consumed orally (for example in food) will take longer to take effect than smoking it. However, the effects will last longer and be more intense with oral consumption.
What Causes A THC High?
There’s no doubt that the cannabis plant contains a variety of compounds that can affect your body in different ways. We do know that cannabis contains more than 100 cannabinoids, and each of these can have different effects. There is much debate, for example, regarding delta 8 vs delta 9. Our bodies also produce endocannabinoids — which is what we refer to when we talk about the endocannabinoid system.
So, what causes a THC high? The answer has a lot to do with how our bodies interact with cannabinoids, including THC.
What Are Cannabinoids?
As mentioned above, there are more than 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. However, it’s important to point out that all of these don’t cause a high. In fact, many of them don’t even have any psychoactive properties at all.
THC is the only cannabinoid that produces psychoactive effects by interacting with the body’s CB1 receptors — which is why it causes a high. While this may seem simple enough, there are some additional factors to consider when thinking about how THC affects.
THC is the main active ingredient in cannabis, and what causes a THC high. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, creating its effects.
THC can be found in several different types of cannabis, including hemp and marijuana. Hemp is a type of cannabis that has very low levels of THC, but high levels of CBD. Hemp cannot get you high like marijuana can. Marijuana is a type of cannabis that has been bred over time to contain higher amounts of THC than hemp plants.
Not only does THC cause a high, but it also has medicinal properties that may help with pain relief, nausea, and appetite stimulation.
The most famous cannabinoid is THC, which is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The discovery of THC’s structure was an important part of the story that led to our current understanding of how cannabinoids work.
THC looks like this:
The similarity to endocannabinoids like anandamide (which we saw in the last section) and 2-AG is obvious. The difference is that THC has a hydrocarbon chain hanging off the middle of one side (highlighted in red), whereas anandamide and 2-AG have a methyl group (CH3) instead. The hydrocarbon chain contains a slightly modified version of a terpene called myrcene.
Myrcene is found in many plants, including cannabis. It’s what gives marijuana its distinctive smell, but it also acts as an analgesic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and sedative. But while myrcene has some interesting effects on its own account (particularly when ingested by drinking mango juice), it isn’t what makes marijuana psychoactive. That requires the presence of THC.
In fact, you can’t get high from eating fresh marijuana leaves or buds, even though they contain large amounts of myrcene and other cannabinoids that don’t make you feel stoned.
Like most of the other cannabinoids, THC has a strong affinity for cannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system. THC works by binding to two different receptors: CB1 and CB2. THC binds to CB1 receptors to produce its psychoactive effects, and it binds to CB2 receptors to protect against inflammation.
When THC binds to cannabinoid receptors, it causes changes in mood, memory, appetite, pain perception, and other bodily functions. These effects are responsible for the high that users experience when they ingest or smoke marijuana.
When someone smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. There, THC connects to specific sites called cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells and influences the activity of those cells.
Just as a key can unlock a door, this connection allows THC to activate cannabinoid receptors and change how those cells normally function. Many of these receptor sites are found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory perception (how we see things), coordination and time perception (how we perceive time).