15 Mar Here’s What Happens When THC Interacts With the Brain
THC is a key ingredient of the Cannabis sativa plant, and it’s the compound that makes you high when you smoke marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, and in large enough doses it can cause visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as feelings of anxiety and euphoria.
But THC is only one of the 400 compounds found in this plant so how come it is so powerful and able to suppress the effects of all the other substances, when one smokes marijuana or ingests products rich in THC? What is it that this compound does to the brain, what are the processes that take place inside the brain when THC enters our body?
A study from 2012 conducted by Australian researchers showed that long-term use of marijuana causes significant changes to the brain and can lead to irreversible damage. The researchers from the Melbourne University and Wollongong University investigated the MRI scans of 59 people who had been using marijuana for an average of 15 years, and compared those MRIs with the scans of 33 healthy people who had never used the drug, concluding that long-term use of cannabis leads to disruptions in the white matter fibers.
This makes people unable to learn new things and leads to memory impairments, affecting one’s ability to focus and concentrate. These effects seem to be caused by THC, which interferes with naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
What happens when THC interacts with the brain?
THC attached to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, including those found in the brain. The density of these receptors in high in the hippocampus area, which is the brain region responsible for memory storage and recall. Also, these receptors are found in high densities in the cerebral cortex, which is involved in thinking, consciousness, memory and perceptual awareness.
The nerve cells in these areas communicate with each other by passing chemical messages across synapses, which are the contact points between two neurons. When THC attaches to cannabinoid receptors, it modifies the way messages are sent through synapses. For example, if THC binds to the receptors in the cerebral cortex, it alters consciousness and leads to occasional hallucinations and delusions, memory impairment and perceptual distortions.
If it binds to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem, it affects the blood pressure and heart rate, causing vomiting, drowsiness and causing high blood pressure and rapid heart rate. But at the same time, it reduces pain and spasticity, because this part of the brain, the brain stem, is involved in controlling the pain sensation and muscle tone and movement.
When THC interacts with the receptors found in hippocampus, it leads to memory impairments, and when it interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in the amygdala, which control emotions, it leads to anxiety and panic in some cases, or to reduced anxiety and emotional numbness in other cases.
Result similar to the ones of the previously mentioned study were obtained by US researchers who found that recreational marijuana use affects the brain areas associated with emotional learning and pleasure. Prolonged use of cannabis can lead to physical changes in the brain, associated with addiction, and can cause a reduction of the grey matter volume in nearly all brain regions that are rich in cannabinoids.
When THC reaches the brain, it binds to cannabinoid receptors and causes changes in the levels of dopamine and noradrenaline. These substances alter the conscious perception, and users experience feelings of relaxation, well-being and euphoria, they feel more creative, jovial, introspect and are easily amused.
If the compound binds to the receptors found in the basal ganglia, a brain region associated with movement control, or to the receptors found in cerebellum, which control movement coordination, the user will experience impaired movement. If THC interacts with the cannabinoid receptors found in the hypothalamus, the homeostatic functions of the body will be disrupted, and if it interacts with the receptors in the spinal cord, the peripheral sensations (such as pain for example) will be altered.
It is therefore of top importance when buying cannabidiol-rich products to make sure that they don’t contain traces of THC, or that the amount of this compound found in those products is insignificant. The Elixinol Whole Plant Extract with naturally occurring cannabidiol oil meets these requirements, being a safe dietary supplement.