When you smoke or ingest marijuana, THC enters your bloodstream from your lungs and is subsequently distributed throughout your body. Cannabinoids such as THC have a variety of physiological effects, including palpitations, dizziness, and coughing, in addition to its actions on your brain, such as euphoria, a sense of relaxation, and heightened sensory perception.
If you’re reading this, chances are that you have experienced some of these effects before. Every individual will have a different set of reactions to marijuana culminating in a unique experience. Ultimately, though, the underlying biological mechanisms driving your subjective experience are shared between people.
The precise timing of marijuana’s bodily and mind-altering effects will vary depending on how you use, and how much. When you smoke marijuana, you likely experience a ‘high’ sensation that can occur as soon as 10 minutes after ingestion, and which can last anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours after smoking. In contrast, when you consume marijuana in an edible form, the drug must first pass through your digestive system before it can enter the bloodstream and exert its effects. This leads to a slower onset of effects (usually taking 30-60 minutes), duration of effects (usually lasting 3 to 8 hours), and variety of effect intensity, as it can sometimes be difficult to tell exactly how much marijuana you’re consuming in an edible format.
Effects include, but are not limited to:
- Feeling of increased pressure inside the head
- Increased heart rate
- Dryness in the eyes and mouth
- Redness in the eyes
- Sensitivity to light
How can cannabis be responsible for all of these reactions? Your body possess a molecular signaling system called the endogenous cannabinoid system, and consists of self-produced cannabinoid compounds, as well as corresponding cannabinoid receptor proteins located on the surfaces of a various cell types and organs throughout your body. The cannabinoids that we naturally produce bind to cannabinoid receptors in a lock and key fashion to turn these receptors on. Activation of cannabinoid receptors trigger a cascade of intracellular effects.
That’s not all. There are actually two types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found primarily in your brain, while CB2 receptors are found throughout the body which leads to the wide-ranging effects of cannabinoids in a variety of bodily processes, from inflammation, to blood flow, to appetite regulation.
Cannabinoids in marijuana, namely THC, are very similar in chemical structure to the cannabinoids that your body produces, which allows them to bind to and activate CB1 and CB2 receptors. All this to say that, while marijuana’s wide constellation of symptoms may seem totally unrelated, they are all linked by shared neurobiological mechanisms!