Cannabis policy in the United States is developing quickly; eleven U.S. states have now have established legal, adult-use cannabis markets. So, whether you are an avid user of cannabis, know people who are, or are simply curious about what all the hype is about, it’s important to know how cannabis affects your brain and body — at the very least, so you don’t end up uncomfortably stoned on the floor of some friend-of-a-friend’s apartment (don’t worry, we’ve all been there).
Knowing a little about the compounds in cannabis can help you choose the right strain with the right cannabinoids for you.
The Nitty Gritty
∆9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical produced by cannabis that’s responsible for the feeling of being “high.” THC activates receptors in our body called cannabinoid (CB) receptors. These receptors are part of a system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is widespread throughout the brain and body.
Studies show that CB1 receptors present in the forebrain can affect executive functioning and decision making when activated, and those in the hippocampus play an important role in memory. CB receptors are also widespread throughout the body, present in places like the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and the immune system. Not surprisingly then, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for a multitude of bodily processes like appetite, pain modulation, memory, mood, and a vast array of others.
There are two known chemicals naturally produced by our body that activate receptors in the ECS — 2-arachidinoyol-glycerol (or 2-AG) and anandamide. These chemicals contribute to the ECS’ role of homeostatic regulation — which is basically your body’s way of checking in with itself and making sure things don’t get too out of whack. When you smoke cannabis (or eat it, swallow it, vape it, rub it, or consume it by any other method), THC enters the brain and binds to these receptors. Because THC is now present, this makes it harder for the cannabinoids that our body naturally produces to do what they do best, and this can throw off homeostatic regulation. This is why you might get “the munchies” or find that your memory is not the best after you smoke — because THC is taking the place of the chemicals that normally regulate appetite and memory.
Benefits of Cannabis Consumption
Despite symptoms like increased appetite, fatigue, and paranoia, THC has been known to help people with various conditions, one being insomnia