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The chemistry of getting high

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The cannabis plant has been around thousands of years, originating in Central Asia.

In general, there are two strains – Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica – that contain concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive compound in marijuana.

Other strains of cannabis have been bred to produce low levels of THC and are used to produce cannabidiol (CBD) or fiber for hemp production.

There are more than 100 compounds in cannabis, but only THC and CBD have been studied to any extent.

When marijuana is smoked, THC blood levels rise immediately because it moves from the lungs into the bloodstream quickly.

The THC and CBD are then distributed to the brain and other parts of the body.

The body produces its own cannabinoids naturally that help control appetite, mood, memory and pain reception. THC and CBD cannabinoids mimic the naturally produced ones and attach to receptors that send messages to various parts of the brain governing senses and sensations like hunger or smell.

THC also attaches to receptors that tell the brain to make dopamine – and that’s what gets you high.

The liver transforms THC into another cannabinoid that tells the brain that you are hungry – hence the munchies.

Cannabinoids also affect the brain’s ability to respond physically, slowing response times.

At some levels, cannabinoids tell the brain to relax – relieving anxiety. But too much can make a person anxious or even paranoid. Not all people react the same way to identical dosages.

The “high” from THC dissipates rapidly as it is distributed into the central nervous system. It peaks about one hour after smoking and lasts three to four hours.

When THC products are eaten, the peak blood levels and the high are delayed. How much can depend on the amount of oil or fats in the product.

Users of edible products may have difficulty gauging the effect of the dose consumed and take more than they should.

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