Maybe you were of the mind at one point that the cannabis high experienced when lighting up a joint (or breaking off a piece of special brownie) came from dopamine. It’s a myth that was spread by the media, addiction therapists, and even NIDA for some time. But they have it all wrong. Although their blame is misplaced, the theory comes from findings that many other addictive substances and activities—cocaine, meth, sex, and gambling—flood the limbic brain with dopamine. The surge of dopamine is part of what makes them so addictive.
The same is not so true about cannabis and THC. First of all, the full name of THC is Tetrahydrocannabinol, and it is the primary psychoactive compound—specifically called a cannabinoid—found in the buds, leaves, and stems of the cannabis. When extracted from the plant material, THC is either clear, amber or gold colored glassy solid when cold, which becomes sticky and sap-like when warmed up. And it must be heated to become psychoactive (it turns from THC-A to THC), which is why eating fresh cannabis won’t have a psychoactive effect on an individual.
THC acts like the endocannabinoids expressed by our bodies, but when we smoke or ingest a THC-rich cannabis, we get a much higher dose of the compound. That’s why we don’t walk around stoned by our endocannabinoid system. But there are instances when our bodies own endocannabinoid systems needs a boost or supplemental help to aid in healing, pain management, appetite, sleep disorders, and many other symptoms. THC gets picked up by cannabinoid receptors, which are located all over the body, and it also activates the brain’s reward system in the same way that healthy pleasurable activities do. By this we mean activities like eating a slice of chocolate cake, playing a vigorous game of soccer, watching an intense sports game when your team is winning, and engaging in sex.
THC stimulates neurons in the reward system to release the signaling chemical dopamine at levels higher than typically observed in response to natural stimuli. However, it does not activate the brain’s reward system in the same “flood of dopamine” that other addictive drugs do. At best, consuming cannabis produces a modest amount of dopamine.
In contrast to the studies done on animals that support NIDA’s view, the evidence does not reflect what happens with humans. We are also seeing the number of addiction and mental health specialists that believe marijuana is addictive quickly shrink.
So, if dopamine doesn’t cause that feeling, what does?
Stronger than the dopamine that is released when cannabis gets consumed is the fact that another compound called anandamide. Cannabis does not contain anandamide, but THC is like anandamide’s plant-based twin. In the early 1990s, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the person who first identified (and synthesized) THC, discovered a neurotransmitter called anandamide in the human body. Anandamide is also called the “bliss molecule” because of the heightened sense of joy and happiness that it creates. But that’s just the beginning because it also plays a major role in memory, motivation, movement, anxiety, depression, pain, cancer, and appetite. It’s not a perpetual state of bliss, but it can deliver up to all-day or all-night relief from symptoms. The body produces anandamide, and it binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system—CB1 is the one that produces euphoric effects. But we don’t produce enough anandamide naturally to create the same effects as its plant-derived equivalent, THC. THC and anandamide share so many similar properties that they get compared to two keys for the same lock. And what do the keys unlock? A deep sense of bliss, for one. It shouldn’t surprise you then that things like long-distance running, yoga, and chocolate all affect anandamide. Runners literally call the release “runner’s high.”
What does THC feel like?
What makes THC so groovy-feeling is very different for each person, making cannabis a very intimate experience for regular consumers. Here are a list of the positive effects and some of the negative effects that can be negated with the right strain or product.
The happiness felt from cannabis can be described as similar to an opiate effect but with even more sensation. For some, it means enhanced sensations, like taste, sound, and touch. Want to focus more on the euphoria? Pack some Blue Dream, Sour Diesel, or Girl Scout Cookies into a convenient all-in-one pipe like the Proto Pipe or other Bongs for Weed and engage in some mindful activities, like turning off all distractions and focusing on eating something incredibly delicious, listening to a piece of music, or walking in nature.
Insomnia is no match for a THC-rich strain like OG Kush, Bubba Kush, or Grandaddy Purple. Even Ambien can’t provide the gentle sleep help that cannabis does—plus you won’t be waking up in the middle of the night to eat, drive, or do any number of strange sleepwalking activity that the pharmaceutical sleep aid has become associated.
While some people may see “the munchies” as a negative—it could lead to overeating or binging on the wrong foods—it’s a lifeline for some marijuana patients. Nausea and lack of appetite are disruptive symptoms often associated with cancer treatment, and cannabis helps in two ways, by stimulating appetite and calming gastrointestinal distress. Want to make food look and taste so good you can’t help but fill your tummy? Try finding concentrates made of any appetite-stimulating strain—Goo, Monster Cookies, Maui Bubble Gift, Sonoma Coma, Platinum Purple Kush, Orange Skunk, Gigabud, Caramelo, Pure Kush, or Diablo—and drop a dab of it into something like this Gandalf pipe for optimal results.
With all the endocannabinoid activity occurring in your brain, trouble concentrating is just one of the possible realities of using cannabis rich in THC. However, there are strains out there that aid in focus and concentration. Look for the names Cinex, Sour Diesel, Green Crack, True OG, Blueberry Headband, Harle-Tsu, Harlequin, Jupiter OG, and Goo.
Short term memory trouble
While it’s nothing like a binge drinking “blackout,” cannabis users find it challenging to form new memories while high. The ability to recall events can also be impaired, though unlike myths that were previously believed about cannabis the effect is not long-term. On the other hand, the cannabinoid called cannabidiol (CBD) is thought to act as a neuroprotectant and may even counteract the memory impairment brought on by THC.
THC can lead paranoia because of how it works on our endocannabinoid system. Our bodies contain receptor sites filled with our naturally-produced compounds endocannabinoids and marijuana’s cannabinoids (when we use the herb). While THC has a relaxing, anti-anxiety effect in some people, the overstimulation of the endocannabinoid system can cause paranoia due to overexcite the neural pathways and the effect on the brain’s amygdala.
Lack of motivation
THC is not the most stimulating substance, and has helped lead to the unfortunate stigma of the “lazy stoner.” Luckily, there are strains out there to help pull us out of unmotivated moods. Next time you need a little help getting from the couch to the gym, try some Durban Poison, Jillybean, Harlequin, Chocolope, Ghost Train Haze, Green Crack, and XJ-13. You can keep your bud in this Aquafina Water Bottle Diversion Safe, which looks totally inconspicuous with your workout attire.
While there is no real case of a marijuana overdose, there is such thing as partaking to an extreme. Greening out will lead to any combination of the THC overload:
- Severe paranoia, fear, and anxiety
- Lack of energy and enthusiasm
- Heavy limbs and lack of mobility
- Extreme dry mouth
- Extremely dry eyes
- Shallow breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Shaking and trembling
- Chills and sweats
- Disorientation and lack of focus
- Upset stomach and vomiting
There is no guarantee that you won’t green out when using cannabis with THC in it and that’s why it’s important to know your limits. Overdoing it with edibles is an easy mistake to make and one that sends many people to the emergency room each year. The key is not to panic, and to engage in activities that promote homeostasis, like hydrating, getting fresh air, sleeping it off—put yourself into a more soothing environment above all else.
While THC is often linked to introversion and withdrawing behaviors, there are too many strains out there that promote social interaction, right down to good old laughing fits to perpetuate the myth. Looking to lighten up your mood in time for a party or other social gathering? Look for Blue Diesel, Laughing Buddha, Church OG, Chemdawg, Sweet Diesel, Black Diamond, and Mango Kush, and use Raw papers found in this Raw Rolling Box if you want to make your joints even more shareable.
Decreased tolerance to cannabis
Like any drug, our bodies get used to substances and our reactions to them diminish. Luckily, marijuana does not have quite the same addictive properties as other drugs and easing off of daily consumption is not as difficult as, say, an opiate detox. However, for those times that you want to actually cut out (or cut down) on your intake to return to a more baseline tolerance, there are products, like this one that teaches you How to Stop Smoking Weed easily and stress free.