How Does THC Interact with the Body?
While scientists have always been aware that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was the cause of a cannabis high, they didn’t always know how it interacted with the body. Over the last few decades, research has revealed this with the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a communications system within our brain and bodies that’s responsible for a number of day-to-day functions, including:
- Emotional processing
- Inflammatory and immune response
- Learning and memory
- Pain control
- Temperature control
Our body produces endocannabinoids (naturally occurring neurotransmitters) that interact with receptors throughout our ECS. These endocannabinoids are almost identical to phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant) which is why we feel different after consuming cannabis products.
While the cannabis plant is made up of over 100 phytocannabinoids, THC is the most abundant of these. Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at how THC interacts with the body and how this interaction will have an effect on you.
The Effects of Cannabinoids on Neurotransmitters
Brain cells are able to communicate with the rest of the body by sending neurotransmitters to attach themselves to specific receptors. Neurotransmitters are initially released from the presynaptic cell (a neuron) and travel through the synapse to finally reach the postsynaptic cell (another neuron).
In turn, this causes a reaction that allows messages to be passed along concerning various aspects of how you feel, think, and move. The ECS is fairly similar in the way it communicates – however, it operates backward.
Endocannabinoids are made when needed from lipid precursors (fat cells) and head toward the presynaptic neuron. Within there, they’ll attach themselves to one of two cannabinoid receptors (CB).
Since endocannabinoids (and subsequently phytocannabinoids) work directly in the presynaptic cell, they’re able to alter the way in which neurotransmitters are released, received, and processed.
What is THC’s Role in the ECS?
When you consume tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the phytocannabinoid attaches itself to CB1 receptors throughout the brain and body. This interferes with endocannabinoids and therefore, throws our entire ECS off balance.
Since endocannabinoids have so many roles within the body, the effects of THC vary from person-to-person. However, the most common include:
- Altercation to motor skills
- Anxiety (or panic)
- Appetite changes
- Changes in time perception
- Distorted sense of time
- Dry mouth
- Heightened senses (i.e. colors appear brighter)
- Increased heart rate
- Lowered inhibition
- Memory loss
- Muscle relaxation
- Psychoactivity (or a “high”)
- Red eyes
If used over a course of time, THC can alter the way the ECS works. While more research is necessary, some suggest this may lead to problems with mental health, memory, and addiction.
Different Consumption Methods Produce Different Effects
While THC will work the same no matter how you consume it, the process it takes through your body does differ. Currently, these are the most popular forms of THC consumption:
- Inhalation – Goes directly through the lungs and into your bloodstream. Provides the quickest effects (within minutes), but will not last the longest (about an hour).
- Ingestible – Processes through the liver, making it take longer for the effects to kick in (usually around 30 minutes to 1 hours). However, it will provide you with the longest lasting effects (around 6 hours) and some claim the “high” lasts longer.
- Topical – Usually doesn’t provide a high as phytocannabinoids (including THC) have a hard time penetrating through the skin. However, it may have use in treating pain and other health conditions.
What’s the Best Cannabis Dosage?
If you’re new to cannabis, we highly recommend starting with a small dose. This will give you an idea of how THC affects your body and what you garner from the experience. From there, you can gradually work your way up to higher dosages.
Newcomers should be aware of the different consumption methods offered by cannabis products and how each of these provides different effects. While smokeable and vape products are better for instantaneous effects, ingestible products may be preferred for those looking for a longer “high.”
If you find that you don’t enjoy the psychoactivity of THC, you may want to opt for cannabidiol (CBD) products as these don’t produce a “high.”