Monday, January 21st, 2019

Your brain on marijuana

Posted on April 20, 2015 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By: Donald Szoslek

Ever wonder what the big deal was behind weed, or it’s scientific name, cannabis?

Found to be consumed for over three thousand years in Central and South Asia, cannabis is used as a medicinal and recreational psychoactive drug. The principle psychedelic molecule of cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol better known as THC. To fully understand how THC works on the body, we have to give a quick lesson in neuroscience.

Your body sends electrical and chemical signals throughout its nervous system. As electrical signals are received through the dendrite of the neuron, they are processed by the soma and relayed electrically down the axon to the presynaptic bouton. This is where the electrical signal causes the release of neurotransmitters out of the presynaptic bouton and into the synaptic cleft where they bind to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. A simple way of imagining this is if someone tells you a message (the electrical signal) and you write the message down (the electrical signal goes from the soma to the presynaptic bouton) you pass to the person next to you (the postsynaptic terminal) and the message is relayed.

THC acts differently than other chemicals. It binds to special cannabinoid receptors. Chemicals such as THC along with their receptors make up the Endocannabinoid (EC) system. The normal process of the endocannabinoid system is to help regulate how neurons communicate, how they send, receive, or process messages. Compared to normal neurochemical signaling, the EC system works “backwards.” When a postsynaptic neurons is activated, cannabinoids are made “on demand” and travel backwards up to the presynaptic neuron, where they act on cannabinoid receptors. Thus they can control what happens next when these cells are activated. Cannabinoids act like a type of “dimmer switch,” slowing down communication between cells, similar to having someone slow when you are trying to write down what they are saying. The natural EC system is finely tuned to react appropriately to incoming information, but THC overwhelms the EC system. It prevents the natural chemicals from doing their job properly and throws the whole system off balance.

Since cannabinoid receptors are in so many parts of the brain and body, taking in THC can be a whole-body experience; including decreased reaction time, disrupt the ability to remember things that just happened, cause anxiety and affect judgment. THC also blocks the release of the neurotransmitter GABA, which regulates the amount of dopamine released in the brain. The blockage of GABA allows unregulated amounts of dopamine to be released into the brain, leaving a persona in a state of euphoria.

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