A few seconds after medical marijuana hits your bloodstream, a relaxing sense of euphoria will flow throughout your body. You may feel hazy and lightheaded. Your eyes may dilate, making colors seem brighter. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is a potent psychoactive drug that causes real chemical changes within your brain and body when you consume medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana uses natural pathways already present in your body. Your body sends information to the brain through your Central Nervous System (CNS). For example, when you stub your toe, your CNS sends a message to the brain. This message details the nature, location and severity of the injury. Your brain processes this information and makes decisions accordingly, like making you hop up and down on one foot and say “Ouch!”. Cancer and other serious illnesses send strong messages to your brain, urgently requesting the brain reach some decision that will ease the pain.
Specific cells in your brain, called “neurons,” are responsible for decision-making. It takes a group of neurons to interpret the information and formulate a plan. Neurons talk to each other through chemicals called “neurotransmitters.” Each neuron has protein receptors that bind with neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters take up the empty space between the neuron cells and bind to these receptors in a way that turns various brain and body functions on or off. Some neurons have thousands of receptors specific to a particular neurotransmitter, which means these neurons are especially sensitive to that neurotransmitter.
Foreign substances, like the THC in medical marijuana, can mimic or block neurotransmitters in a way that disrupts their normal activity. Medical marijuana’s THC binds with cannabinoid receptors throughout the body and sends pleasant messages of relaxation and euphoria to your brain. There are several groups of cannabinoid receptors concentrated in various places throughout the brain. These receptors bind with the naturally occurring chemical “anandamide.”
FUN FACT: Anandamide means “bliss” or “delight” in Sanskrit. Medical marijuana mimics anandamide. It seems the human body is equipped and designed to feel pleasure. Scientists are just now beginning to understand the complex role anandamide and cannabinoid receptors play in pain, depression, memory, appetite and fertility.
High concentrations of cannabinoid receptors are found in three areas of the brain: the hippocampus, cerebellum, and basal ganglia. These three areas of the brain are responsible for performing specific functions. When THC in medical marijuana binds to receptors in the hippocampus, cerebellum or basal ganglia, it interferes with the way these areas function.
The hippocampus is in the human temporal lobe near the ear. The hippocampus is important to short-term memory, which is why you have trouble remembering recent events after marijuana binds to protein receptors in your hippocampus. Your cerebellum controls coordination and your basal ganglia modify your involuntary movements and learning through repetition, AKA “habit-building.” The THC in marijuana impairs the way your basal ganglia and cerebellum function, so marijuana changes your reactions, motor coordination and learning skills.
After you ingest marijuana, your central nervous system still sends messages to the brain, but THC changes the way your brain makes decisions about that information. Medical marijuana eases pain by binding with receptors in a way that sends strong messages of pleasure and bliss to the brain. Medical marijuana is proving to be one of nature’s best pain relievers.