When it comes to marijuana everybody knows that when consuming it, it can cause widespread changes to your brain, which can make you do or feel all sorts of strange things from the munchies, to fits of giggles and don’t forget the crippling feeling of paranoia. But how exactly does it affect our brain so radically?
First, let me give you a quick crash course on how our brains function, so we begin explaining the effects. Your neurons are nerve cells that processes and transmits information from your brain to the rest of your body, through electrical and chemical signals. By releasing chemicals called neuro transmitters from one neuron to the dendrite (a short branched extension of a neuron) of another, which changes the electrical charge of the receiving neuron which can excite the receiver or inhibit it. If excited, the signal is passed on. This is what happens every time you think, breath or move.
So, What’s Actually Going on in Your Brain When You Are Smoking Marijuana?
Well, unlike alcohol which contains molecules nothing like those in your body, cannabis contains molecules that resemble those produced in our very own brains, cannabinoids, and the chemical Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC also found in cannabis, resembles a natural transmitter called Anandamide. These cannabinoids are specialized neurotransmitters released by neurons having just fired. Neurons temporarily become unresponsive after firing, to prevent them from overreacting or being too dominant. This allows your brain to function in a calm and controlled manner.
But cannabinoids interrupt this approach in some parts of the brain. Instead, they remove the refractory period of neurons that are already active and cause your thoughts, imagination and perception to magnify. I’m referring to those times when you have conversations about the universe, and have an “a-ha” moment about life itself.
These cannabinoids also affect the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain, which can lead to a sense of euphoria, relaxation, pain modulation, and general enhancement of an experience, however sometimes a high level of THC can cause an alarming sense of anxiety. Furthermore, there are cannabinoid receptors in areas controlling short-term memory, learning, coordination, movement control and higher cognitive functions.
The Short-Term Effects
You've probably heard that sativa produces feelings of euphoria and enhances energy while indica is good for pain management and sleep. But how long do these effects last for? It all depends on the strain, which are the varieties developed to intensify specific characteristics of the plant, to get the different effects that people are looking for whether it’s for pain relief, or to eat more, or to help with insomnia. But what it really comes down to is that everybody has different reactions to marijuana, and what may sedate one person instantaneously, may be just a nice buzz for another.
In terms on how long it can last for, that all depends on if you are vaping, smoking or eating an edible. The higher amount of THC that you consume, the more intense your experience can be, because THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Please note that nobody has EVER died from taking cannabis.
The Long-Term Effects
The research on Cannabis is still very new, due to the FDA restricting any study on marijuana, and studies on the long-term effects of pot, are still inconclusive. However, we what they have found is that CBD and THC seem to have a lot of medicinal benefits which are helping patients with all sorts of illnesses such as arthritis, epilepsy and even PTSD. So, I suppose you could say that marijuana can be good over the long term. However, another study that measured cognitive performance found that middle-age users had poorer verbal memory than their non-using counterparts. With more and more research being conducted on economy of marijuana, it’s going to be interesting to see where things with cannabis goes.
Researchers have only scratched the surface of this plant. Today, cannabis has its own community and culture, and even celebrities are coming out of the weed closet. It's getting a lot of attention for everything from pain relief to its potential to treat certain cancers, but a lot still unknown. Regardless, it’s hard to deny the medicinal benefits of this wonder plant.