How Cannabis Interacts with Our Brains; It’s Complicated

The legalization of cannabis in America has led to some fairly significant changes since it first began back in 2012. Throughout the years, more places are opening dispensaries, allowing people of legal age to purchase cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes. With the growing accessibility in America, more people are curious about trying cannabis for the first time.

Although cannabis has been used by humans for thousands of years, there are a lot of mixed messages being shared about it. Some people say it will make you laugh and really enjoy cartoons, and others say that it will make you lazy and ruin your life. With roughly 50 million cannabis users in the United States, you might wonder what cannabis actually does. In this article, we will take a look at what happens to your brain when you use cannabis.

cannabinoids explained chart

Your Brain on Cannabinoids: What is Happening Behind the Scenes?

Any cannabis user will tell you that cannabis influences the way that you think and feel, often for the better—but what actually makes this possible? What happens to your brain during and after cannabis use that makes these sensations happen?

The experiences linked to cannabis are all based on the influence of cannabinoids, which are present in cannabis. These prominent compounds can lead to a variety of different effects. The experience can even change in response to what you use, as well as factors relating to your brain and body.

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a group of compounds that can trigger a response from the body’s endocannabinoid system. These compounds can all attach to different receptors, and they can each yield a different response—even changing from one person to the next. How your body reacts to cannabinoids can be quite similar to someone else’s or completely different from it.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

The most famous cannabinoid is the one that is known for the experience of feeling “high” after using marijuana: THC. This psychotropic compound is present in marijuana, and marijuana is often grown to promote high amounts of THC. Transversely, hemp has negligible amounts of THC in it.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD is a compound that is commonly associated with pain relief, and it was officially federally legalized with the Farm Bill. This is the primary ingredient in a variety of everyday cannabis products, and these products can be found in stores, online to be delivered to you, and even gas stations all around the United States. Though research into CBD is still fairly limited, many people report a variety of benefits that go well beyond pain management.

Other Common Cannabinoids

There are several different cannabinoids at work in cannabis plants, and we are still learning about the different benefits that they bring, as well as how many there are. Already, over 100 cannabinoids have been discovered and we keep discovering new ones as well.

Other Known Cannabinoids Include:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA)
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin Acid (THCVA)
  • Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)
  • Cannabidivarinic Acid (CBDVA)
  • Cannabigerolic Acid (CBGA)
  • Cannabigervarinic Avid (CBGVA)

Why Do Cannabinoids Influence Our Brains?

In order for something to impact us, it has to have a way of influencing our systems. With cannabis, it is our endocannabinoid system that is influenced. This system is built to process endocannabinoids, our body’s version of cannabinoids, and it can process cannabinoids from cannabis plants and cannabis-based products as well.

Within the brain, there are both neurotransmitters and receptors. The two primary receptor types are CB1 and CB2, which can directly influence prominent parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, known for memory, and the basal ganglia, known for movement. The endocannabinoid system is very important in the human body and is linked to several different systems, including the central nervous system, immune system, and endocrine systems. Cannabinoids can impact these systems—and, consequently, our minds and bodies.

thc stoner meme

5 Common Sensations Associated With Cannabis Use

The sensations you experience when using cannabis can vary drastically in response to what products you use and your body. Some sensations are relaxed and happen in the background, while others can be more prominent. Marijuana, in particular, will make you feel high—but hemp can offer a more subtle experience with no mind-altering effects.

1. Euphoria

Cannabis is well-known for its unique ability to induce euphoria with use. This is one of the sensations that is commonly associated with feeling high. Any form of marijuana can lead to positive feelings, often paired with feelings of relaxation and even a general level of silliness for many people.

2. Anxiety

While cannabis products can absolutely induce euphoria, in some instances, they can take you in the opposite direction. Most people have heard about someone getting anxious or paranoid following cannabis use. This is possible, but it is most commonly linked to cannabis use at high doses. Some people actually experience the opposite, finding their anxiety decreases with smaller doses.

3. Reduced Physical Responsiveness

Physically, cannabis can play a fairly unique role, particularly at higher doses. Larger doses of cannabis can actually inhibit the body’s physical responsiveness. This is specifically linked to marijuana use, and it is caused by THC.

THC has the ability to influence both the cerebellum and the basal ganglia. These parts of the brain play a key role in our physical abilities by influencing both balance and coordination. Additionally, the body can be influenced by poor response time. Hemp will not cause these effects.

It is important to note that even though cannabis can make you less physically responsive, controlled doses can alter this. In fact, one study found that adults that use cannabis also use it during over 60 different forms of physical exercise.

4. Pain Relief

The endocannabinoid system can impact how our body responds to pain and inflammation. One of the more common benefits associated with cannabis use is the treatment of pain. From headaches to chronic conditions, a lot of people find relief with cannabis. These benefits are linked to both hemp and marijuana.

5. Ability to Focus

Believe it or not there are some strain with specific terpene profiles that have purported energizing effects, most commonly associated with sativa-dominant or sativa-leaning strains. Terpenes such pinene, limonene, and beta-caryophyllene are strongly associated with alertness and mental focus. Ever persons body reacts differently so perhaps other terpenes will help dial you into “the zone” more than others.

The Takeaway

There is more to learn about cannabis and the ways that it impacts the human brain, but as we learn more, we find more ways to seek out its many benefits. Whether you haven’t tried cannabis since college or you are interested in trying it for the first time, it can really help to understand what happens when you use cannabis.

Remember, every product and every brand can have different effects, so do not let one product determine your opinion of the experience. For the best possible experience, be sure to try smaller amounts and try cannabis somewhere you feel safe. Then, sit back and find out what your brain can do!

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