Effects of marijuana on the brain: behind the THC high

The use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes has grown exponentially in recent years. As a result of the legalization of marijuana in different countries, the popularity and consumption of cannabis plants with a high content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana, has been increasing. marijuana, has been on the rise.

The cannabis plant has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, but the potency of chemovars, or marijuana strains with high concentrations of THC developed today, can give very different effects from those known about marijuana in the past. Below, we will explain some of the most common effects of marijuana on the brain.

The science behind the high or marijuana high

How does THC work?

When marijuana is smoked or any psychoactive cannabis product is consumed, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC , travels from its point of ingestion to the receptors of the endocannabinoid system . THC is a partial agonist of the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 (1), which means that it has the ability to activate these receptors and alter the endocannabinoid system.

Because the endocannabinoid system is a system regulated by highly specialized neurotransmitters intended to perform different brain functions, alteration of its natural mechanisms can result in both positive and negative effects on the brain. These effects produce in people, both alterations in physiological processes and sensations, as well as altered states of mood and consciousness.

Effects of THC on the brain

Discover the different effects pot has on people’s brains. In this post we explain how it affects, its evolution, what effect it has on our neurotransmitters and much more.

How does marijuana affect your brain?

The effects of THC on the brain are variable, as they depend on entirely personal factors. Dosage, choice of method of consumption and individual biological differences such as tolerance are responsible for the very different responses from person to person.

Marijuana is not what it used to be

In addition, the effects of cannabis on the brain also vary depending on the potency of the chemovars or strains of marijuana. As discussed in the blog on types of marijuana, the marijuana consumed today is different from the marijuana smoked by the Beatles.

In just 30 years, marijuana has gone from having 4% THC to levels exceeding 30% THC. This potency of today’s marijuana, and the disproportion of THC compared to the other cannabinoids, has been scientifically linked to negative effects, and is largely responsible for the stigma and bad reputation that cannabis has.

THC and its effects on neurotransmitters

In general, through intricate signaling mechanisms, THC in the brain can lead to the release of dopamine (2). Dopamine is linked to pleasurable sensations and reward, which is why cannabis produces pleasure in the brain, or at least the feeling of satisfaction.

Other neurotransmitters that are affected by the effect of cannabis on the brain are serotonin and GABA (2). Serotonin is responsible for mood changes and GABA for feelings of sedation or relaxation.

THC in the brain affects the activity of the visual and auditory cortex (3), areas that are responsible for processing sensory information. It is because of this that the perception of time, sound and color is different when under the effects of marijuana.

The munchies

For hundreds of years, THC has been used to improve appetite (4). Munchies is the term often used for hunger or food cravings as a side effect of cannabis use.

Munchies is the result of the intensification of the sense of taste and smell (5); together with the alteration of the system in charge of appetite regulation, which is linked to dopamine. This system can be disturbed by THC consumption, resulting in increased appetite and thus increased food intake (6).

What are the effects of CBD on the brain?

So far we have focused on the effects of high THC marijuana. Another type of cannabis is hemp, which is low in THC and high in other cannabinoids. Of these compounds that also have the potential to have effects on the brain, CBD or cannabidiol is the predominant non-psychoactive cannabinoid in hemp and CBD cannabis flowers.

See: What is CBD for?

CBD has been shown to decrease the psychoactive effects of THC by acting as a negative modulator of the CB1 receptor. This explains why cannabis chemovars with a more balanced cannabinoid content would have a less negative effect.

In addition, studies have shown that CBD has a variety of effects on the brain, including modulation of neurotransmitters, regulation of neuronal activity and neurogenesis. In general, the effects of CBD on the brain are complex and vary depending on the dose, duration and the context in which it is consumed. If you want to know more, stay tuned for the next post on the neuroprotective properties of CBD.

We suggest a responsible and informed use about the effects of cannabis. Consult local regulations regarding the legal situation in your country.

Does marijuana produce paranoia?

Marijuana use can predispose or produce psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, paranoia and depression, due to the effects of THC. Paranoia is a state of exacerbated anxiety and fear that can develop from long-term, continuous marijuana use; usually linked to high THC consumption. THC can alter the activity of a brain structure called the amygdala, which is involved in the development of fear and anxiety. Paranoia can manifest as negative thoughts, a sense of persecution, distrust of others and of oneself, among other symptoms. However, not all people who use marijuana experience paranoia, and the intensity and duration of the effects may vary depending on the dose, the strain of cannabis, the method of use and the individual characteristics of each person. If you experience symptoms of paranoia after using marijuana, it is recommended that you avoid using it. If you have questions or concerns about this, consult your primary care physician.

  1. Pertwee R. G. (2008). The diverse CB1 and CB2 receptor pharmacology of three plant cannabinoids: delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and delta9-tetrahydrocannabivarin. British journal of pharmacology, 153(2), 199-215. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.bjp.0707442
  2. Zehra, A., Burns, J., Liu, C. K., Manza, P., Wiers, C. E., Volkow, N. D., & Wang, G. J. (2018). Cannabis Addiction and the Brain: a Review. Journal of neuroimmune pharmacology : the official journal of the Society on NeuroImmune Pharmacology, 13(4), 438-452. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11481-018-9782-9
  3. Winton-Brown, T. T., Allen, P., Bhattacharyya, S., Borgwardt, S. J., Fusar-Poli, P., Crippa, J. A., Seal, M. L., Martin-Santos, R., Ffytche, D., Zuardi, A. W., Atakan, Z., & McGuire, P. K. (2011). Modulation of auditory and visual processing by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol: an FMRI study. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(7), 1340-1348. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.17
  4. Cota D, Marsicano G, Lutz B, Vicennati V, Stalla GK, Pasquali R, Pagotto U. Endogenous cannabinoid system as a modulator of food intake. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 Mar;27(3):289-301. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802250. PMID: 12629555.
  5. Kirkham T. C. (2009). Cannabinoids and appetite: food craving and food pleasure. International review of psychiatry (Abingdon, England), 21(2), 163-171. https://doi.org/10.1080/09540260902782810
  6. Bloomfield, M. A., Ashok, A. H., Volkow, N. D., & Howes, O. D. (2016). The effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol on the dopamine system. Nature, 539(7629), 369-377. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature20153

Masha Burelo
Investigadora en cannabinoides | Doctoranda en Neurociencia

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