The How and Why of the Marijuana High
Marijuana is one of the most popular widely illegal drugs in the country. Approximately one out of every eight Americans have smoked cannabis at one point in their life. A survey in 1969 reported that a mere 4% of Americans had tried smoking the substance. However, according to a 2016 study that included over 1,000 adults living in all 50 states, roughly 13% of people say they have smoked cannabis. So why do all of these people decide to sit down and smoke the green sticky icky? While there are plenty of answers to that question, I think we can all agree that most people smoke to get high.
So what is this illustrious high that people spend their hard-earned paychecks on? The marijuana high is a relatively unique one, users report a myriad of different effects and some even claim it to be psychedelic. The most common effects from smoking cannabis are an altered perception of time, relaxation, euphoria, increased sensory perception, and to put it quite simply– joy. However, there are a large number of other side effects that can be experienced, increased heart rate, dry mouth, increased appetite, giggling, and sleepiness to name a few. When you smoke, you feel dazed, hazed, and utterly blazed. While there are large portions of overlap in the experience of getting high on cannabis, the substance affects everyone uniquely.
So what is it about cannabis that gets you high? Unlike oregeno, cannabis contains over 450 unique chemical compounds, over 65 of these are known as cannabinoids which interact with the endocannabinoid system in your brain. The most famous of these cannabinoids are known as tetrahydrocannabinol or THC and a second slightly less known compound known as cannabidiol or CBD. THC is by far the most psychoactive compound found in the plant. While the other cannabinoids interact with your brain in different ways and add to the experience; most of the time the high experienced by cannabis users is largely produced by THC. When ingested, THC along with other cannabinoids activate different receptors in the endocannabinoid system.
There are essentially two major receptors in the endocannabinoid system, CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found in the brain, and when activated are responsible for the ‘high’ feeling you get when smoking cannabis. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are found throughout most of your body on cells of the immune system. When this receptor is activated it can produce a myriad of different beneficial medical effects. Because THC interacts with both types of cannabinoid receptors, the chemical proves to have both recreational and medical effects.
There are two major species of cannabis, sativa and indica. Cannabis sativa typically has higher percentages of THC, whereas cannabis indica typically has higher percentages of CBD. While THC does interact with both types of receptors, cannabidiol is known to affect the CB2 receptors in a stronger fashion than THC would. Because of this, those looking for the medical benefits of the plant often seek out Indica strains, whereas those looking for a good buzz will look for sativa strains.