How Weed Affects the Brain
We’ve all seen the circa 1990s ads about our brains on drugs, and at some point we’ve probably been warned about how marijuana kills brain cells. This idea is a common held belief that affects how we view cannabis and in effect, how we view those who use cannabis. So today we are going to dive into how weed actually affects the brain on a neurological level. We will discuss secondary effects as well.
In order to understand how cannabis affects the brain we need to have some preliminary information on what is going on in the brain to begin with. The two elements we need to be familiar with are neurons and neurotransmitters.
Neurons are cells that communicate with each other via electrical signals. Our brain has nearly 100 billion neurons which together are responsible for every thought we have, every action we take, and all our basic processes like breathing and walking. Neurons send messages to one another via their structures. Each neuron has components called axon endings and dendrites. Axon endings from one neuron get very close to the dendrites of other neurons and transfer information.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that work with neurons to send messages throughout our brain and body. There are over 200 known neurotransmitters and some common ones you may be familiar with are dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine greatly affects attention, motivation, pleasure and reward, while serotonin affects memory and mood. There is another neurotransmitter that you might not have heard of before called anandamide. Anandamide is a cannabinoid, a specific neurotransmitter that links with the endocannabinoid system. Understanding endocannabinoids like anandamide provides a link to understanding exactly how cannabis affects our brain.
Anandamide and Tetrahydrocannabinol
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). As such, it is more specifically an endocannabinoid, or a chemical produced by our own bodies that interacts with our ECS and actively affects various functions. Anandamide is created by the brain and influences our ECS on a daily basis; think of each anandamide molecule as a key to a lock. Cannabinoid receptors in the ECS are these locks, and there are thousands of them. When certain receptors are activated (unlocked) a bodily process is affected in some way.
Now, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or the main chemical found in psychoactive cannabis, happens to have a structure that is similar enough to anandamide that it can also fit all these “locks.” Typically, anandamide is released in small regulated quantities, only ever unlocking a few things at a time and for a short period of time. THC, on the other hand, enters our brain and starts locking and unlocking everything in sight! It is this unregulated randomness that creates a high effect; certain neural patterns just keep firing, interrupting the natural order of processes.
So what bodily processes is it anandamide naturally influences? Knowing the answer to this can give us an idea of what THC and other cannabinoids can interfere with. The ECS influences activity in the hippocampus, cerebellum, frontal cortex. These areas which largely control memory, movement control, reasoning, and motivation. These are all areas that utilize anandamide, or other endocannabinoids to function. When cannabinoids from cannabis enter our system, all of these processes, and even other neurotransmitters, are subject to be influenced.
This information seems consistent with our personal experience; when we are high, our memory, for example, does not function properly. It can become lapsy but it might also become hyper-focused. This is an indicator that some effect is changing our natural memory function. The same goes for motivation, appetite, energy, and movement control. Each of these areas in someway different when we have consumed cannabis.
When it comes to cannabis and the brain, like most things related to cannabis, much research has yet to be done. What is understood is why cannabis affects our body and makes us “high.” It has to do with cannabinoids mimicking chemicals, or neurotransmitters that are already created by our brain. Because cannabinoids are similar to these chemicals, they can influence the neural systems that rely on those chemicals. As cannabis becomes more sophisticated so will our understanding of cannabinoids and how exactly they can be calibrated to affect our brains. More efforts will also be made to isolate cannabinoids without having to get them from cannabis. If we can better understand cannabinoids, we can better understand how exactly they are influencing our processing and how we may even be able to manipulate those effects to do what we want them to.
Perhaps someday we will be able to predict exactly how the ECS is affected by external cannabinoids, and we can use that information to optimize our highs. For now we know the basics, and we know that there are strains that are more effective for certain functions that others. At Cannacopia we have developed a rich database to help you reach your goals with cannabis. Use the Cannacopia app to find the perfect product for your based on your desired effects! Available in the App Store and the GooglePlay Store. We’ll see you next week and as always, stay high!