How does THC work? What happens when you get stoned?

So how does THC work? What does happen when you get stoned?

The giggles? Short term memory loss? Time distortion? Introspective thought? Increased heart rate? The munchies? Relief from muscle pain, eye strain, spasms or convulsions? Suppression of nausea?

Ganja is literally brimming with useful chemicals and compounds. With over 500 scientifically recognized constituents it is one of the most chemically (but unfortunately no therapeutically) studied plants.

Not that surprisingly the most interesting constituents are to be found in the trichromes. The trichromes are the excreted resign on the plant. This is where the cannabinoids and the terpenes reside. The outer layers of the trichromes are a coating of wax to protect the chemicals inside from oxidation and degradation. Mary Jane really does care about us.

The most famous of the compounds it contains is the cannabinoid – delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. However over 70 more cannabinoids have been identified – so far. The active cannabinoid in THC is cannabidol or CBD, which has shown anti-cancer and anti-psychotic effects. THC is also neuroprotective (serving to protect neurons from injury or degeneration). Other cannabinoids which are under investigation include cannabigerol (CBG) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV).

Cannabigerol or CBG is non-psychoactive (doesn’t get you high) and is what THC and CBD are made from.  Cannabigero (as well as cannabidol) inhibit GABAA uptake in the brain (gamma-aminobutyric acid). This causes relaxation, relief from anxiety, induction of sleep, and suppression of seizure-activity as well as anti-depressant and some modest anti-fungal properties.

Tetrahydrocannabivarin or THCV in low dose blocks CB1 receptors – causing weight loss, decreased body fat and an increase energy expenditure- the opposite of THC. In high doses it binds to the receptor and acts just like THC.

The chemicals that give bud it distinctive and delicious smell are the terpenes. Over 120 terpenes have been identified in cannabis so far. They also have anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and analgesic effets. (analgesic, a drug that relieves pain selectively without blocking the conduction of nerve impulses). The terpenes may also be responsible for regulating or changing the effects of THC and other cannabinoids when combined in the body.

In the plant form THC and CBD are only present in their “acid form”. It is the process of heating the flowers to a high temperature during smoking (or baking, or vaporizing) that they are rapidly transformed into the more active compounds.

So what’s going on inside when you get stoned?

Cannabinoid receptors apparently evolved in something called a “sea squirt” about 500 million years ago; humans and many other creatures inherited our cannabinoid receptors from this distant ancestor. This is why THC binds to receptors in animals as well as humans, with similar effects. (Don’t pretend you never got the dog stoned! – a friend of mine once had a cat that would sit next to the bong meowing until someone took a hit and blew it in its face)

There are two kinds of cannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptors are in your brain. The CB2 receptors are found throughout your body and are also associated with the immune system. That’s why cannabis can have the dual effect of getting you high or reducing swelling and pain.

Cannabinoid receptors are activated by a neurotransmitter called anandamide. Anandamide is a cannabinoid produced naturally inside your body (pretty cool huh? – This is also the reason that THC remains present in your blood stream for so long. Your antibodies don’t clean it out like they would a foreign chemical so it is left to break down naturally). THC mimics the actions of anandamide, meaning that THC binds with cannabinoid receptors and activates neurons, which causes effects on the mind and body, both recreational and medicinal, changing bodily functions such as blood pressure, pain responses or appetite.

99% of the CB2 receptors are found on immune cells, and stimulation of them with cannabinoids can suppress inflammation , to treat autoimmune problems such as multiple sclerosis and the damage caused by immune cells after a stroke.

High concentrations of cannabinoid CB1 receptors exist in the hippocampus, hypothalamus, cerebellum and basal ganglia.

Your hypothalamus is a part of your brain known to regulate appetite. When you ingest THC, you artificially boost the amount of cannabinoids sending messages to your hypothalamus – This is the munchies, not as many (including myself) believed caused by dope-induced fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

The hippocampus is the brain region most closely associated with memory. Apparently THC slows down a lot of the normal neuroprocessing going on up in your hippocampus affecting the acetylcholine system. So memories while stoned are often jumpy because parts literally are missing. You didn’t forget what just happened; you never remembered it in the first place. Smoking weed causes temporary lesions on the hippocampus – it is literally short term brain damage.

The basal ganglia is responsible for movement control. It is through treatment of the receptors here that Cannabinoids may be able to provide relief from tics in Tourette syndrome, dyskinesia in Parkinson s disease and some forms of tremor and dystonia.

THC also affects the uptake of dopamine in your brain; this creates a stimulant effect which is what makes you feel excited and giggly. This is also what causes the sensation of time distortions; because your brain is working quickly time may appear to pass more slowly.

Your heart is racing, your memory sucks, and the whole thing is quite hilarious.

Maybe this means we are a distant relative evolved from ganja itself? – seeing as we have a neurological and immune system so heavily dependent on the use of cannabinoids? Or maybe that’s the bong talking some stoner ass conspiracy shit?

So as you can see there’s a lot more going on than you might think every time you toot on a spliff or pack yourself a bowl – and this is just scratching the surface of how THC works and what happens when you get stoned!


Most of the big words and impressive information came from these links –

Marijuana and Medicine (National Academies Press):

http://www.ncsm.nl/english/what-is-medicinal-cannabis/active-ingredients

cannabis relieves pressure in the eye

http://io9.com/5794209/what-cannabis-actually-does-to-your-brain

THC is also “neuroprotective,

cannabis could mitigate the effects of Alzheimer’s

http://www.truthonpot.com/2013/08/10/is-cannabigerol-cbg-the-ultimate-cannabinoid/

http://www.theweedblog.com/cannabinoid-profile-tetrahydrocannabivarin-thcv/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15030397

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10627163

http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=222543