Marijuana is making tremendous leaps, especially over the past few years. So far, 18 states including Washington, DC have fully legalized the plant, with New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota recently joining the list, while medical marijuana is now legal in 37 states.
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (AIA, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill) has also made great strides when it comes to the treatment of cannabidiol (CBD) and removing this cannabinoid from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Scheduling.
Despite all these developments across the United States, a few states remain firm on keeping marijuana a forbidden plant primarily because of its psychoactive effects. In fact, federal laws consider marijuana and THC drugs that do not have any approved medicinal value along with other Schedule I substances such as ecstasy, heroin, and LSD.
Marijuana policies that continue to impose prohibition can be reflective not only of the legislators’ and leaders’ lack of understanding about how the plant works, but also a portion of the residents’. The thing is, even some of the most enthusiastic cannabis consumers may still have a few things to learn about the plant. If you enjoy being high with marijuana or want to understand how it makes people high, you should check out this breakdown.
What Makes You High?
Let’s go back to the basics. The first thing you need to know is delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta 9 THC or simply THC) is what gives people the kind of high commonly associated with marijuana: euphoria, sedation, paranoia, cottonmouth, creativity, and lowered inhibition, just to name a few.
What you need to understand is not all marijuana products can provide these effects. This means that you can smoke one joint and you may not experience sedation. This is because there are a lot of strains and they vary in terms of cannabis species and cannabinoid content.
When you think of all these stereotypical stoner effects, you are thinking of the attributes of Cannabis sativa, the species that are known to have higher THC levels and lower CBD levels. Sativa strains provide what is called a “body high” because the impact is more on the body than the brain.
On the other hand, Cannabis indica is associated with the so-called “cerebral” or “brain high” because it has the potential to positively affect the consumer’s brain. It is often linked to energy boost, mood enhancement, cognition improvement, and pain and inflammation management. This is because indica strains are low in THC but rich in CBD. This cannabinoid, one of the hundreds of chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, provides the medicinal effects of the plant.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized CBD’s medicinal value and has approved medications containing CBD, particularly Epidiolex for Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet syndrome, and Adulhelm, for Alzheimer’s disease.
Plus, the AIA has made it more available across the US, as long as the CBD is extracted from hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) or cannabis plants that contain only 0.3% THC or less. CBD products should also contain 0.3% THC. However, keep in mind that the legality of CBD in a state can depend on its laws. For example, some states allow all CBD with 0.3% THC while others like Idaho only allow products that do not contain any trace of THC.
Now this is not to say that delta 9 THC does not have any medicinal merit. In fact, many of the qualifying conditions listed by many states where medical marijuana is legal can be addressed thanks to this psychoactive substance.
Take cachexia or wasting syndrome for example. This condition, often associated with cancer, can be caused by a lack of appetite. THC can help in increasing patients’ appetites also known as the munchies for the average consumer. Aside from cachexia, there are numerous debilitating and chronic medical conditions and symptoms that this psychotropic substance can address including nausea and vomiting.
Plus, let us not forget that the FDA has approved medications containing dronabinol or synthetic THC namely Marinol and Syndrol, as well as Cesamet, a drug containing nabilone which is a synthetic component similar to THC. These medications are used for chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. Dronabinol is also a medication for HIV/AIDS-related loss of appetite and weight loss.
Is THC the Only One that Makes You High?
Now, let us backpedal a bit and clarify what it means to call a cannabinoid “psychotropic” or “psychoactive.” The National Cancer Institute describes psychoactive substances as those that affect the workings of the brain. Consuming these can result in changes in awareness, thoughts, feelings, mood, and behavior.
THC clearly falls under this definition. However, some argue that CBD is also a psychoactive substance, just not in the same way that THC is. Just the term cerebral high, which is associated with the CBD-rich indica species, tells you that cannabidiol does have a different kind of psychotropic effect. Keep in mind that this is still subject to debate.
Cannabinoids Other than Delta 9 THC and CBD
So, THC is what makes you high. CBD can, as well, if you consider it a psychotropic substance. Given that there are hundreds of other chemical compounds in the plant, you might be wondering if any of them can make you high. The answer is yes, there are a few others that are confirmed to make you high and they are related to delta 9 THC.
As mentioned, delta 9 THC is what people commonly refer to when they talk about THC. The thing is, delta 9 is not the only tetrahydrocannabinol in the plant. Scientists have also found delta 8 and 10 THCs, which are isomers of delta 9. Isomers are chemical compounds that are made up of the same types of atoms but are arranged in different ways.
Delta 8 and 10 can be derived organically from the cannabis plant. They can also be created synthetically from delta 9.
Because they have the same atoms, delta 9, 8, and 10 can make you high, but in different potencies. If the standard is the body high offered by delta 9, then delta 8 is a notch below that. Think of it as a slightly milder version of the body high. It provides calmness, boosts appetite, improves mood and mental health, and provides pain relief minus the euphoria, sedation and paranoia associated with delta 9.
Researchers suggest that delta 10 offers a less intense version of both delta 9 and delta 8. In fact, it is seen as a great alternative for delta 9 and 8, even CBD. It offers more potent effects compared to CBD with a mildness that is not observed in delta 9 and 8, all while providing a more balanced relaxation, mood enhancement, and pain relief.
If you think that delta 8 and 10 are your best bet, you need to remember that they are still THC isomers. Because they are made up of the same atoms as delta 9, they are likely to show in drug tests. Moreover, the Controlled Substances Act’s Scheduling considers are kinds of THC Schedule I substances.
Plus, the federal document on the Implementation of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 noted that the AIA does not affect the status of THC, even if they are made synthetically.
The Human Body and Cannabinoids
Now, you might be wondering how THC and CBD are absorbed by the body once you eat, drink, and consume them. In understanding, this it is important that you know that our body has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) composed of CB1 and CB2 receptors. This means that our body has a dedicated system to deal with cannabinoids.
The next thing you should know is that our body produces its own cannabinoids called endocannabinoids. Meanwhile, scientists differentiate plant-derived cannabinoids as phytocannabinoids. So, basically, our body is naturally equipped to handle cannabinoids, whether endo or phyto.
The ECS is considered the universal regulator of the body because its functions are concerned with maintaining the homeostasis or balance of the body. The ECS receptors are present in many other systems such as the circulatory, nervous, digestive, reproductive, and immune systems.
CB1 receptors are abundant in brain cells particularly in the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus, as well as in the peripheral nervous system, and the immune system. Meanwhile, CB2 receptors are abundant in the central and peripheral nervous systems, and white blood cells. Some scientists hypothesize that the ECS has CB3 receptors but more studies are required.
CB1 and CB2 receptors can override signals when they interact with cannabinoids. Let’s take pain, for example. The parts of the brain concerned with pain and pleasure receive pain signals, but when you consume cannabinoids like CBD and THC, their interaction with the receptors can help override this signal.
What you need to remember is that THC and CBD can be agonists (activators) or antagonists (suppressants) of these receptors. According to research, THC is a partial agonist of CB1 and CB2 receptors. On the other hand, CBD is a partial CB2 agonist and a CB1 antagonist.
So, when you consume THC, you are stimulating the receptors in systems in charge of memory, learning, pain, motor skills, appetite, and inflammation. It also activates parts that deal with emotion. This explains the euphoria, pain relief, sedation, confusion, and fogginess of the brain.
Consuming CBD also stimulates CB1 receptors. However, it can suppress CB2 receptors, which can help in decreasing appetite and food intake. It can also cause calmness and relaxation.
Anticipating Effects and Avoiding Some of Them
If you are an avid consumer of marijuana and cannabinoid-infused products, it helps to know the properties of cannabis species and cannabinoids you are consuming. This way, you know what to expect whenever you consume these products.
For example, if you enjoy the creativity boost and uplifting effects of marijuana without the increase in appetite, you might want to go for an indica-dominant strain. Those who do not want the negative effects of THC such as cottonmouth and paranoia but want to enjoy a cerebral effect should go for CBD.
You should also remember that smoking cannabis can get you high in just a few minutes, but ingesting cannabis products can take a while. However, the high provided by ingested cannabis or cannabinoids can be more intense and can last longer.
Knowing the science behind the properties of marijuana and its cannabinoids can help you get the effects you want and need, and avoid those that you do not prefer.
This can also help you prepare for the impact. Say, you consume a strain that causes the munchies. You can help yourself enjoy the ride by stocking up on snacks and drinks that you enjoy.
Coming Down from a Cannabis High
Here is the tricky part. You want to make sure that you are positively sober if you are expecting to go to work, operate heavy machinery, or just generally participate in society. What you need to know is how to help yourself come down from a cannabis high with minimal issues.
Your best bet is to eat and drink stuff that can help minimize the effects. Studies show that pine nuts, lemon, and peppercorns can help you recover from brain fog, as well as reduce anxiety and paranoia. Hydrating yourself is also a good move as it helps relieve cottonmouth and dry mouth.
Taking a shower and exercising can help increase clarity of mind and sweat off the high. Just take it easy on the exercises, especially if your motor skills are not up to par. If all else fails, there is nothing wrong with sleeping it off as this can help your body and mind recover.
Information dissemination and education is the best way toward legalizing the plant for recreational and medicinal use. The more people know about how it works and its effects, the more advocates can garner support for the plant. This can also help anti-marijuana advocates see why many people support this plant. Now that you know how exactly the plant and its cannabinoids work on the human body, you can become a more responsible consumer and can even advocate for the plant using science.