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How Does THC Affect the Brain?

You’re probably familiar with feeling a euphoric high or wanting endless snacks after a smoking session. But how does THC affect the brain itself? 

Keep reading to learn what happens in the brain that causes marijuana users to experience some of the more well-known short-term effects of cannabis. 

The Endocannabinoid System

When you smoke or vape cannabis, the smoke enters your lungs and diffuses into your bloodstream. When you drop a tincture under your tongue, the THC quickly passes through sensitive glands and the blood barrier. And when you consume edibles, your digestive system processes the THC first, delaying the effects for around two hours. 

However you consume your cannabis, THC and its other cannabinoids eventually reach your endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a system of homeostasis that plays a significant role in regulating appetite, mood, memory, pain, and more. It’s capable of this because it has receptors throughout the body. 

Cannabinoid receptors can be found in many areas of your brain, but they’re the most concentrated in the basal ganglia, hippocampus, and cerebellum, which control cognition and movement. 

What about some of THC’s specific effects? 

Enhanced Mood and Euphoria

CB1, one of the ECS’ two main cannabinoid receptors, resides mainly in your brain and nervous system. It’s also the main receptor for anandamide and THC. 

Anandamide is a cannabinoid that your brain produces naturally. It has a reputation for heightening mood, as well as reducing fear and anxiety. THC is a phytocannabinoid (a cannabinoid produced in the trichomes of a cannabis plant) with a very similar chemical structure to anandamide. Once THC reaches your ECS, it effectively mirrors anandamide’s functions. 

Increased Appetite

When cannabinoids like THC are introduced into your ECS, its receptors interact with specific neurons (POMC neurons) found in the hypothalamus in your brain. These neurons control several functions, including appetite stimulation, and send a chemical signal to inform your brain when your stomach is full. 

The ECS receptors flip this switch in the POMC neurons, so it starts sending messages to your brain to stimulate appetite instead. This explains why having eaten an hour ago still won’t save you from the munchies. 

Reduced Pain

Many of the nerve cells that carry pain signals from your body to your brain also contain cannabinoid receptors. In a 1992 study, researchers activated the cannabinoid receptors in the spinal cords of rats. Afterward, their behavior changed in a way that indicated they were in less pain. 

The periaqueductal gray region is one of your brain’s main pathways for pain signals. It’s also full of cannabinoid receptors. In a similar experiment on rats in 1995, activating those receptors once again appeared to lessen the pain the rats experienced. 

Dosing Matters

As you probably already know, taking higher doses of THC than your body is used to is more likely to induce negative side effects. Cannabis helps some users with their anxiety because it binds to their amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for the threat response. 

However, it’s believed that when the amygdala receives too much THC, it becomes overstimulated instead. This leads to the anxiety and paranoia that often characterizes “greening out.” If you’re experiencing anxiety or paranoia from THC, choosing a product with high levels of CBD may balance this out. 

THC in Denver

If you’re looking for high-THC products, low-THC products, or anything in between, Diego Pellicer has been supplying Colorado with recreational marijuana since 2017. Order online for easy pickup from the Denver dispensary today. 

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