We understand that marijuana has an effect on the body. You would be hard pressed to find a person who does not agree that ingesting marijuana will get you high. However, many people do not know the complex chemical reactions that happen in the brain in order to produce this effect. THC, shorthand for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most powerful chemical in marijuana, and the one responsible for the familiar high. So how exactly does it work?
Your brain contains groups of cannabinoid receptors, located in clusters in different areas. These receptors can affect memory, hand-eye and motor coordination, the ability to retain learned materials, and critical thinking skills. Chemicals called neurotransmitters facilitate communication between the neurons in your brain; when one binds to its designated receptor, it tells your brain to do something. Our body naturally creates a neurotransmitter named anandamide; this activates only those cannabinoid receptors.
What makes THC so fascinating is its ability to mimic the actions of anandamide. THC is able to bind with your cannabinoid receptors, activating the neurons that anandamide is responsible for.
For each effect typically associated with ingesting marijuana, there is a corresponding area of the brain whose high concentration of cannabinoid receptors have been activated by THC. The hippocampus is extremely important for the creation of short-term memory; when THC binds with the cannabanoid receptors here, it interferes with your ability to recall events. The basal ganglia control unconscious muscle movements; the cerebellum handles coordination. THC affects the receptors in these areas by decreasing motor skills.
In addition to memory and movement, anandamide produces a heightened sense of joy and happiness. It plays an important role in motivation, pain, appetite, and fertility. It's also an anti-anxiety and antidepressant agent. THC is the only substance on the planet that has the molecular structure necessary to bind with and activate cannabinoid receptors in anandamide's place.
It is peculiar to note that the increased hunger many marijuana users experience, commonly referred to as the "munchies", is not as fully understood as some of the other effects. However, a recent study has suggested that certain endocannabinoids bind with hunger receptors in the brain to stimulate the appetite.
Some may associate the pleasurable effects of marijuana high with dopamine, serotonin, and other misunderstood chemicals, but the comparison is an unfair one. The cannabinoid receptors that THC can activate are a part of such a unique system that marijuana high is its own specific experience.