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How Does Cannabis Get You High and How Does It Feel?

Added 15 July 2022

We love smoking cannabis from time to time, but have you ever wondered, how weed can get you so high? 

Cannabis is almost a magical plant, but science is not far behind. We have, in recent years, learned a lot about cannabis and how it interacts with our bodies to create a high. And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a neurologist to understand it.

In this article, learn all about how cannabis works to get you high (and sometimes gives you the munchies)!

The Endocannabinoid System of the Human Body

the human endocannabinoid system

Before we get into the chemistry of cannabis, we need to understand the endocannabinoid system that’s present in your body. 

The first part of the endocannabinoid system puzzle is natural endocannabinoids — chemicals that your body naturally produces. The second part is the endocannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), which the cannabinoids interact with.

Essentially, the endocannabinoid system in your body is responsible for various functions of the body, such as metabolism, pain, stress, food intake, serotonin dopamine release, etc. 

Experts define this system as the human body’s most pervasive and essential modulatory mechanism because it controls the release of nearly all neurotransmitters — the molecules that neurons (brain cells) use to communicate. 

The Neural Network’s Communication

neural network in the brain

For instance, a neuron transmits a message to another neuron by releasing neurotransmitters into the synapse (the infinitesimal gap between two neurons). The first neuron is called the presynaptic neuron and the other neuron that receives the communication is called the postsynaptic neuron. 

Here, the post-synaptic neuron decides to act depending on the input received from the presynaptic neuron.

But that does not mean that the information cannot travel backward. The postsynaptic neuron can also send communication back to the presynaptic neuron. When the postsynaptic neuron is activated, it sends a message to the presynaptic neuron to halt the release of neurotransmitters. 

This backward message is sent to the presynaptic neuron in the form of natural endocannabinoids that act on the CB1 receptor of the cannabinoid system. On the other hand, CB2 receptors are located all over your body and are largely associated with the immune system.

We’re talking of two neurons here, but your brain consists of over 85 billion neurons that are interconnected by 100 trillion connections! So, the system is intricate.

Phytocannabinoids Present in Cannabis

phytocannabinoids in cannabis

As mentioned earlier, the natural cannabinoids produced by your body are essential, but through a coincidence in evolution, the cannabis plant also contains cannabinoids that are similar to the natural ones from your body.

Scientists have discovered over 140 cannabinoids, but the most popular (and effective) ones are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)

THC is responsible for giving you the signature cannabis high, whereas CBD is non-psychoactive but it does offer many medicinal benefits. 

Experts have also discovered over 83 cannabinoids that alter your state of being — some make you hungry (munchies!), some confuse your motor skills, some make you laugh, and some numb inflammations. 

Fun fact: there are around 500 cannabinoids, apart from the ones found in cannabis in the world. 

Since these cannabinoids resemble endocannabinoids of your body, they can easily bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors in your brain. 

Cannabis Metabolism in the Body

cannabis metabolism

Here is how cannabis travels through your body before it gives you a high.

When you smoke cannabis, it gets absorbed by your lungs and transferred into the bloodstream. This process is quick. Within 20 minutes, your bloodstream takes the THC and other cannabinoids to every tissue and organ of your body, including your brain.

On the other hand, when you consume cannabis orally via edibles, it first gets metabolized by the liver before being absorbed into the bloodstream. In the liver, enzymes convert THC into 11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC). This process takes longer, and it takes a couple of hours before you feel high. 

Effect of THC on the Neurons

Once the cannabinoids reach your brain, they cross the blood-brain barrier and latch onto the CB receptors in the endocannabinoid system.

Since they are not naturally occurring endocannabinoids, these cannabis cannabinoids alter the way the neurons interact with each other, creating all kinds of effects.

For example, when THC binds to the CB receptors, it essentially turns up the volume between the neurons, which temporarily makes the neurons stop or send more neurotransmitters to each other.

Think of THC as a large truck hitting the endocannabinoid system in your brain with many signals that the postsynaptic neurons did not send. The neural network in your brain is what lets you focus, daydream, or contemplate your past life choices. But when the THC truck arrives, this mode is altered, producing the high.

Scientists are yet to figure out what exactly happens when cannabinoids bind to the endocannabinoid receptors in the body. It is difficult to study, given the minuscule scale of things, but also due to a lack of clinical research limited by strict federal regulations. 

But what research shows so far is that THC temporarily takes the neurons off the default mode network. 

When the default mode network is deactivated or altered, your brain functions in a different way. This is why you may think your arm is too heavy, the paint strokes on your Van Gogh wallpapers are moving, or you can see the sound waves. It's also why you enjoy doing things when you're high. 

Remember, this effect is quite similar to LST and magic mushrooms, since they do the same thing. 

Dopamine or Anandamide: Myth vs Reality

THC not only affects the neurons’ default mode network, but it also floods your brain with dopamine, the brain’s reward signal, which would explain why some people feel euphoric after smoking up.

Or so we thought. 

In recent years, scientists have discovered that it's not dopamine but anandamide that is responsible for the euphoric high. 

Anandamide is the bliss molecule that was first discovered in the early 1990s. When it binds with the receptors, it naturally encourages the neurons to release some dopamine. It also aids your memory functions, drives you to do tasks, and regulates pain receptors, hunger, fertility, movement, etc. 

And since the chemical structure of THCresembles anandamide, it binds with the cannabinoid receptors in your body. Once it binds to the receptors, THC makes the neurons release more dopamine than usual, unlike anandamide, which gives you a high which is relaxing and euphoric.

The most significant difference between THC and anandamide is that THC stays for a longer period, pumping more dopamine in your brain. If anandamide was to act the same way, we would be high all the time. Not that we would complain, would we?

Entourage Effect: Much More Than THC

Recent studies have shown that the cannabis high is much more than just how the THC molecules interact with the neurons. Cannabis also contains CBD, CBN, CBC, CBG, and many other cannabinoids, along with terpenes. 

Scientists state that these molecules work together to create the entourage effect, a term coined by Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat during a 1999 study on cannabinoids. 

According to these researchers, cannabis produced such a high due to the entourage effect. Think of the entourage effect as a synergy between the cannabinoids, phytonutrients, terpenes, and other plant compounds, that produce proper cannabis high. 

One of the best examples of the entourage effect is the 2010 study where cancer patients experiencing pain were given a CBD/THC blend while the remaining received pure THC.  

The ones who used the blend experienced relief from their pain because CBD worked in tandem with THC and produced a more pronounced relieving effect. 

The subjects that received pure THC didn't display any significant changes, which leads us to believe that it's beneficial to consume the entire part of the plant through flowers containing equal ratios of CBD and THC or full-spectrum edibles and extracts.  

Still, not a lot is known about the entourage effect and what cannabinoids enhance the high. The lack of clinical trials, industry standards, and research has made it difficult to judge the process that creates cannabis high.

The Role of Terpenes

Terpenes play a crucial role in the entourage effect. While they are associated with the skunk-like smell of the plant, recent research has found that they do a lot more than just add a scent to your buds. 

So far, experts have found that terpenes may impact the way THC interacts with the brain’s receptors and also its effect on anxiety, appetite disorders, inflammation, etc. 

So, the high that users associate with cannabis is partly thanks to terpenes, too, not just THC. Note that terpenes cannot get you high on their own, which means that you won't feel anything if you consume pure terpenes. However, they enhance the high produced by other cannabinoids. 

Effects of Cannabis on Your Body and Mind

effect of cannabis

Consuming cannabis recreationally is the favorite pastime of millions of people worldwide. It’s just so much fun to just sit back, unwind, watch a funny movie, and smoke a joint. 

High as a Kite: Defined 

But if you are wondering what exactly it feels like, we may be short of the right answer. Everybody is different, so everyone experiences a different high. However, most highs can be described with a few common effects, such as the following:

  • Euphoria 
  • Urge to smile or laugh 
  • Deepened perception of reality
  • A Higher consciousness of thoughts 
  • Relaxed muscles
  • Altered perception of time
  • Altered senses
  • Mood changes
  • Impaired body movement and memory
  • Hunger or munchies

Duration of the Cannabis High

duration of cannabis high

Each body is unique, so the high varies from person to person. Not everyone processes THC and other cannabinoids the same way. Different factors affect how long you experience the high, such as the following.

1. Strain of Cannabis

Cannabis has hundreds of strains, and each strain has varying concentrations of THC. So, your high’s duration depends on the type of cannabis you consume. For example, if you have consumed a strain with over 25% THC, your high will be more intense and longer than a strain with 5% THC.

2. Your Characteristics like Metabolism and Tolerance

If your body has a high metabolism, chances are that your cannabis high won’t last that long. This is because higher metabolism means THC will reach your bloodstream faster and get cleared out of your system faster.

Similarly, some people have a higher tolerance to cannabis than others — just like alcohol — so if you have low tolerance, expect the high to be long. The higher the tolerance, the lower the high’s potency and duration.

3. Method of Consumption

The most common ways to consume cannabis to get high are either smoking, vaping, or consuming edibles. These three methods affect your cannabis potency, which may lead to a longer or a shorter high.

For example, people who smoke cannabis get high within 15 minutes, which lasts around 1 to 3 hours. This is because cannabis gets absorbed by the bloodstream quickly. 

On the other hand, when you eat cannabis in the form of brownies or cookies, you will feel the effects after an hour but the high can last more than six hours. Here, the cannabinoids first get metabolized by the liver, where THC is converted into 11-OH-THC, which produces a delayed yet more potent high. 

4. Intake of Other Substances like Alcohol or Caffeine 

Lastly, how long your high stays also depends on if you have consumed cannabis with alcohol or caffeine. When you drink alcohol, the THC in your blood stays for longer since alcohol tends to slow down your body’s metabolism. 

On the other hand, caffeine can interfere with the neural network, which can affect THC’s stay in the CB receptors. 

Enhancing Your High

enhancing cannabis high

Imagine spending a lot of money on cannabis only to find out it's underwhelming. In that case, you can resort to some methods that can enhance your high. Here are a few methods you can try to fly higher. 

1. Get THC-dominant Cannabis

A sure-shot way of enhancing your high is to get cannabis buds that are rich in THC and terpenes. As mentioned earlier, THC is the cannabinoid that gets you high and terpenes enhance that effect due to the entourage effect. So, choose a strain with high THC and terpene content.

2. Combine Cannabis with Herbs

One of the best ways to enhance your high and improve your smoking experience is smoking cannabis with other herbs that contain terpenes that will boost the effect of THC on your mind. The best herbs here are Artemisia Vulgaris, lavender, and damiana.

3. Eat Ripe Mangoes

Mangoes are high in myrcene — a terpene that’s also present in cannabis in abundance — it acts as a muscle relaxant and helps THC cross the blood-brain barrier efficiently, resulting in a more intense trip.

4. Eat Dark Chocolate

Chocolate is rich in anandamide, your body’s bliss molecule. So, when you eat dark chocolate before lighting up your joint, it increases anandamide levels in your brain and stimulates the CB receptors, leading to a more intense high.

5. Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3

Present in fish, eggs, avocados, walnuts, and chia seeds, omega-3 fatty acids optimize THC synthesis in your body and also stimulate the CB1 receptors while slightly sedating you. These effects work in tandem with THC to give you a more intense high.

Beware of Bad Trips

bad trip

The other side of the coin, albeit rare, is the bad trip. Many long-term smokers experience a bad trip once in a while. While it does not leave any long-term side effects, a bad trip can still be scary when you are high. But what exactly is a bad trip?

Cannabis alerts your thoughts and amplifies your emotions and feelings. However, if you smoke too much, are not in the right state of mind, or smoking a low-quality strain, the same effect of cannabis can make things worse. It usually happens when your body does not know how to react to the new stimulation. 

During a bad trip, cannabis amplifies your negative thoughts, which can make you spiral into paranoia, anxiety, sadness, or fear. The common symptoms of a bad trip include:

  • Anxiety, paranoia, delusion
  • Heavy breathing
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination
  • Pale skin
  • Trembling or sweating
  • Upset stomach or nausea 

Nothing to worry about, though. A bad trip can be scary, but it's only temporary. If you ever experience a bad trip, the first thing you need to remember is not to panic. A bad trip will end soon once the THC wears off. Until then, use the tips mentioned below to reduce your cannabis high and have someone around to help you.

Reducing the High

exercise to reduce the high

Sometimes, you may also need to reduce the high. Maybe you smoked a little too much or remembered your in-laws are coming over in an hour. Or maybe you are just having a bad trip. In such cases, if you wish to reduce your high, you can take some steps, such as the following.

1. Try Black Pepper

If you chew or smell black pepper, you can find instant relief and sober up quickly. Black pepper contains a terpene, beta-caryophyllene (BCP), which activates the CB receptors and produces a phytocannabinoid-terpenoid effect that brings down your high. 

2. Exercise for a Bit

Surprisingly, working out for a bit is one of the most effective ways to bring down your cannabis high. Exercise produces endorphins in your brain and improves your blood circulation, due to which your body metabolizes THC quicker. 

Try out low-intensity activities in your home, like yoga or dancing, to get your body moving. It is not recommended that you go out for a run or cycle as cannabis can affect your motor functions.

3. Take a Shower

You can also take a cold shower. Showering or taking a bath reduces tachycardia — a fast heartbeat — and it relaxes you and brings you back to reality. Also, cold showers can distract you from the senses, and kickstart your mind again. 

4. Avoid Beer or Coffee

When you want to sober up, you might think grabbing a cold beer or a strong coffee will help you. But never make this mistake. Beer (or any alcohol) can increase the THC levels in your blood, which can make you more high. And caffeine or other acidic beverages dry your mouth, which can make more THC bind to the receptors near your tongue.

5. Instead, Drink Herbal Tea

Herbal tea, especially the ones containing lemon balm or rosemary, can help you quickly sober up. They contain dietary cannabinoid beta-caryophyllene, similar to black pepper, which can bring down your high.

Tips for First-Time Cannabis Users

If you are consuming cannabis for the first time, don’t let the worry of a bad trip stop you. Recreationally using cannabis can be fun and rewarding, and the chances of a bad trip occurring are rare as long as you keep a few things in mind. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy your first cannabis trip:

  • Start with a strain that contains low THC to avoid consuming too much cannabis that your mind can’t handle
  • Avoid re-dosing, especially if you are consuming cannabis orally; oral intake takes a while to give you a high but the high will be intense, so avoid too much cannabis 
  • Consume cannabis in a safe space, like your home, so you don’t have to bother yourself with fearful thoughts of the cops catching you
  • Keep yourself hydrated to avoid a dry mouth 
  • Never get high on an empty stomach to avoid negative side effects, and keep some snacks handy if you get the munchies 
  • Never mix cannabis with alcohol or caffeine. While it may work for some people, it is best to avoid that during the initiation
  • Smoke up with a friend so that you have someone around you in case you get anxious, which is common with first timers

Summary: How Does Cannabis Get You High And HOw Does It Feel?

Millions of people consume cannabis recreationally because it's a terrific experience. But getting into the chemistry of it is just as fascinating. To think that cannabis cannabinoids resemble our body's natural cannabinoids, and they can bind to the CB receptors in our brain and produce so many amazing side effects. That's fascinating.

While research is still required on how cannabis gets you high, so far, the results show that THC binds to the CB receptors, altering the default mode network, interrupting neurons' communications, and producing more dopamine.

That is further enhanced by the entourage effect with other cannabinoids and terpenes act to boost or enhance the effect of THC in your brain.

Just remember to get the best kind of cannabis you can get your hands on, take the right steps to enhance your high and prevent a bad trip, and you will be fine. And if you experience anxiety or just want to sober up quickly, use the tricks mentioned above to reduce your high.

And that is how you get high.






Comments

Removed
Removed

if you have a panic attack, count numbers out of order... the effort made to think of random numbers will distract portions of the brain that contribute to the causes of a panic attack.

it really does work (but, not 100%)... mix in really large numbers if not working. once you feel that weight start to lift, try to ride that receding wave.

marijuana is a stimulant. anxiety problems are often exacerbated by it. brain chemistry is complicated... the fact it helps some in this regard is irrelevant to the fact. same reason why some people never get sick from drinking too much alcohol (or, they experience it differently with less vomitting/nausea etc).

CannaScience
CannaScience

@NobodysBuds, this...it works