THC and Your Brain: What Happens When You Smoke
The war on drugs has propagated a lot of misinformation about what marijuana does to your brain. After years of hearsay and deliberate inaccuracy, it’s no wonder people don’t understand how THC works inside the brain. Even with the momentum of legalization, I’ve found that people have a lot of questions.
In my experience, there are three big questions that people ask when they first start looking into marijuana use for the first time:
- What happens right when you smoke marijuana?
- What are the long term effects?
- How does it affect kids who are still mentally developing?
These are questions that nearly everyone who tries smoking weed for the first time has asked and until the facts are truly laid out, they’ll continue to be common. So here are the facts:
THC in the Brain: What is THC and CBD?
There are two main active ingredients in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol (CBD). These are the two primary chemicals that create the high you experience after smoking. THC is the ingredient that affects your mind more and is generally what most recreational smokers look for when purchasing marijuana, whereas CBD relaxes your body and works as both pain-reliever and anti-inflammatory.
While you can purchase marijuana strains that are higher in CBD than THC you’d be a little disappointed if you’re looking to get high — but your body will feel almost as good as love affects the soul. That’s exactly why it’s used more medicinally than recreationally.
What are the Short Term Effects of Weed?
This may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you, but in your brain you have these little things called cannabinoid receptors. In simple terms, when you smoke weed you absorb THC, and when that THC reaches the brain it acts similarly to the neurotransmitter anandamide and will stick to these cannabinoid receptors.
This blocks the other neurotransmitters from doing their jobs, throwing off the chemical balance and creating the signature euphoric feeling. On top of that, you’ll get an increased appetite (goodbye to whatever food you have in your house!), dry mouth, red eyes and an increased heart rate. For more information on what’s going on in your brain when you do smoke, check out this short video:
It’s not always happiness and rainbows though, as a number of smokers have experienced moments of paranoia and panic, though it’s not a certainty either.
How Does Weed Affect You in the Long Term?
The short and simple answer to this question is that we don’t know. There are a number of new studies that try to figure it out, such as one from 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal which shows that users consuming marijuana three times a day displayed more connectivity in the brain regions, but also showed less grey-matter volumes in their orbitofrontal cortex’s. Even with these studies there’s still no way of knowing for certain if marijuana was the cause of that or not, just that the traits were displayed in people who did smoke.
Is it Safe for Kids?
Again, we’re just not sure. While some studies point towards marijuana use in teens possibly being harmful, scientists still haven’t been able to perform studies large enough to take anything meaningful away from it. That’s why the “treat it like alcohol” rule has been a good rule of thumb, and will probably continue to be until more research is conducted.
Remember, if you’re going to enjoy marijuana you should do so, but do it responsibly. Learn about the possible affects to make your decision, and enjoy!