People who wonder “how does marijuana work?” are often given an explanation about cannabinoids like THC and CBD. But what are cannabinoids and how do they have such a strong effect on our body?
The answer to that question is that cannabinoids are chemical compounds. They naturally grow in cannabis and other plants, such as echinacea.
These compounds interact with our natural endocannabinoid systems (ECS) and cause certain responses. Basically, cannabinoid compounds mimic important chemicals made in our body. Our body’s response to these compounds depends on their chemical makeup.
THC is one of the most remarkable and potent cannabinoids and is the active compound in marijuana that gets you high. CBD is another important compound because of its potent medicinal benefits. There are, however, also over 100 different cannabinoids that you may not have heard about.
Learn more about the answers to questions such as “what are cannabinoids?” and “how does marijuana work?” by reading the information below.
How Does Marijuana Work? You Can Thank Our Endocannabinoid System
Smoking marijuana causes psychoactive effects by triggering certain natural chemical reactions in the body.
These reactions are traced back to the endocannabinoid system. The ECS was discovered by scientists who were curious about why marijuana gets people high.
Research conducted by neuroscientists Allyn Howlett and William Devane first identified the ECS back in 1988. By tagging THC molecules and tracing their path through rat brains, they discovered special neurological receptors that are spread throughout the body.
They dubbed the receptors part of the endogenous cannabinoid system, also called the endocannabinoid system.
In other words, it’s not remarkable that we have so many receptors spread throughout multiple systems. What is remarkable is how effectively marijuana cannabinoids are at stimulating this system to create important, beneficial effects.
How Marijuana Gets You High
The receptors in our body are designed to react to specific chemical signals. These signals are called neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters help activate or shut down chemical processes in our body. For instance, the hormone adrenaline tells our body to raise our heart rate and hasten our reaction time.
When someone consumes marijuana, THC particles end up interacting with receptors in the brain and elsewhere in the body. Binding to these receptors can trigger a huge range of effects.
For example, THC acts on the neurotransmitters responsible for appetite and hunger. They also happen to cause reactions related to our mood.
These two reactions explain why cannabis is a great appetite stimulant and why it can make us feel happy and less depressed. Our ECS is also related to managing sleep cycles, which is probably why marijuana can reduce insomnia.
Other functions that ECS receptors control include:
- Motor functioning
- Temperature regulation
- Pleasure and reward
- Immune functioning
Many people who have issues with these areas may, in fact, have deficiencies related to their ECS neurotransmitters. That’s why medical marijuana can be so effective at so many different things.
It also explains why people ask someone “how does marijuana work?” they’re often given many different explanations.
What Are Cannabinoids Other Than THC and CBD?
THC and CBD are the most famous cannabinoids because they have the most obvious effects. They have also been studied the most extensively out of all the cannabinoid compounds.
Yet, if someone were to explain “what are cannabinoids?” these two compounds would be just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other compounds that have their own interesting properties and benefits.
To learn more about these compounds, look at some of the better-understood cannabinoids below:
- THCA — The acidic form of THC, this is the cannabinoid created by the marijuana plant; when heated up it becomes THC
- Cannabinol (CBN) — Created when THCA breaks down after exposure to oxygen, CBN is a powerful sedative responsible for “couch lock.” It also has some medical benefits being investigated by the pharmaceutical industry.
- THCV — This compound gets created when the liver metabolizes THC. It is more powerful than THC, which is why edibles feel more potent than smoked cannabis.
- Cannabigerol (CBG) — Non-psychoactive, this compound reduces inflammation, kills bacteria and may even attack cancer cells.
- Cannabichromene (CBC) — Found mainly in tropical cannabis strains, CBC relieves pain, soothes inflammation, inhibits tumor growth and has been reported to promote bone growth.
There are also tons of plants other than marijuana that produce cannabinoid compounds. Liverwort, black pepper, the Amazonian “Electric Daisy” and a plant in South Africa known scientifically as Helichrysum umbraculiform all contain potent cannabinoids.
What Happens Hours After We Ingest Cannabinoids?
A natural follow-up to the question “what are cannabinoids?” is “what happens after cannabinoids have been in our system a while?”
Depending on how much cannabis you ingest, the effect of THC and cannabinoids can last between one and six hours.
But, eventually, THC stops acting upon our receptors. At this point, it is moved from its location via the bloodstream and transported to the liver.
The liver first changes THC into 11-OH-THC, which is also sometimes called “11-hydroxy-Δ9-THC.”
This molecule mimics THC but is less potent. That’s why you may feel slightly stoned after the THC wears off, but not quite in the same way.
Eventually, the molecules are broken down again into THCCOOH. This compound and 11-OH-THC are known as “THC metabolites” because they are the result of digesting THC.
Like most cannabinoids, THCCOOH is not water soluble. It can only be dissolved into fat or oil. For this reason, the body must get rid of THCCOOH very slowly. Otherwise, it could back up the endocrine system.
To pace itself, our livers store surplus THCCOOH in our fat tissues. It is broken down at the same time the fat cells are used for energy. That is why it can take weeks or even months after smoking to completely rid THC from your system.
Discover Different Effects of Cannabinoids in Different Cannabis Strains
Now that you know the answers to “what are cannabinoids?” and “how does marijuana work?” you can begin experiencing the various effects from different strains of marijuana.
Some strains may have more CBN, for instance, which can help you relax and sleep more easily. Other strains may energize you thanks to their high THC content.
Conduct research on the various cannabinoids, and you can choose a cannabis strain that provides personal enjoyment or soothes your medical symptoms.