Stoned. High. Baked. Faded. That feeling when the joint/vape/edible kicks in. Call it what you want. But what’s really happening when cannabis hits your system?
Cannabis can impact you within a few minutes if you smoke or vape. If you consume or take cannabis orally, it can take an hour or longer to have effect. Different strains and concentrations of cannabis will also have varying degrees of THC and may produce different effects.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), high-potency edibles and concentrates regularly contain more than 50 percent THC with some products exceeding 80 percent which is three times the concentration of samples ten years ago. Keep in mind that topicals, even if they contain THC, will not get you high the same way ingesting cannabis will.
Cannabis contains THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, is what’s responsible for getting you high while CBD is a popular choice for pain relief and won’t get you high.
Whether you consume, smoke or vape it, THC travels to your brain and adheres to the cannabinoid (CB) receptors. The CB receptors interact with the chemical anandamide, produced by the brain, which is similar in structure to THC. Like THC, anandamide is also involved in memory, motivation, movement, pain, appetite, fertility, and may even decrease the spread of cancer.
According to NIDA, CB receptors are located throughout the brain and influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory and time perception. Like many other recreational drugs, THC activates the brain’s reward system and releases a flood of dopamine, also known as the feel-good chemical.
A deeper look into the CB receptors shows that CB1 receptors are associated with learning, memory, reward, anxiety, pain, and movement control. While CB2 receptors are associated with the immune system. THC interferes with the messages sent and received by the CB receptors – creating feelings of relaxation, bliss and timelessness.
They’re also responsible for symptoms, such as glazed eyes, giggles and the munchies. THC throws the CB receptors off balance and can also produce negative effects, such as paranoia, dizziness and anxiety. According to Leafly, THC has a biphasic effect which means that you a moderate amount of THC makes you feel great but it’s possible to get too much of a good thing.
According to a report by Business Insider somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of smokers report anxiety, paranoia, distrust, and panic after smoking. Cannabis’ effects usually peak within 10-30 minutes of smoking or 2-4 hour of consuming and fade within a few hours.
Although the long term effects of cannabis are still being studied, preliminary research suggests that chronic cannabis users may have decreased memory functions and a delayed “fight or flight” response due to “smaller hippocampus and amygdala volumes.”
Other studies suggest that cannabis acts as a temporary fix for anxiety and depression. While being high may ease worries and reduce stress – thanks to the boost of dopamine – cannabis-use can actually worsen depression in the long run.
As more states push for legalization, hopefully more research will reveal how cannabis affects the brain and body. But, since the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still classifies marijuana a Schedule I drug, researchers need a special license to study it.