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Discovering the Science Behind Marijuana and its Applications

July 09, 2021

A Modern Microscope- Discovering the science behind marijuana

Marijuana, scientifically known as cannabis is one of the most interesting plants to have ever existed all throughout history. It has been known for its multiple uses but nowadays, many people typically only associate it with one specific use as a recreational drug. So let’s dive into the science behind marijuana and hopefully shed some light on the context of this plant.

Whether you love marijuana for its recreational effects or medical benefits, there is no denying that marijuana has a noticeable impact on the body that makes it a desirable substance among many. If you are an avid weed smoker, you understand just how important it is to be knowledgeable about your marijuana. After all, understanding the different types of cannabis and how they impact your body allows you to get the most out of your experience. To gain further insight into these interactions, let’s dive into the science behind marijuana!

the science behind marijuana - Smoking Ganja in Kolkata

How Weed Works 

We all know that the process of smoking or vaporizing our weed is what delivers the effects that we are looking for but the science lies in how the body process these ingredients once they are in our system. Here is why your favorite plant affects you in the way that it does. 

THC – The Psychoactive Properties

When it comes to the psychoactive properties of marijuana, this is made possible due to the tetrahydrocannabinol or THC content of the plant. THC works by mimicking the effects of pre-existing neurotransmitters in our brain known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are present in all animals, fish, reptiles, mammals, you name it. They work by altering the activity of neurotransmitters within the brain which as a result causes the brain to function.

Endocannabinoid System

A system that is finally making its debut thanks to the growing exposure and acceptance of the marijuana and hemp industries, the endocannabinoid system is the entity behind the reasons why you are able to enjoy weed. A series of receptors that lines the nervous system throughout the body, the endocannabinoid system is designed to help our body send and receive messages to perform processes like triggering inflammation and easing pain. This is accomplished when the brain produces the chemical messages and sends them to the respective receptor to achieve their goal. As you may have already guessed, we actually produce our own cannabinoids and these are known as endocannabinoids. 

You may have also figured out that endocannabinoids are not the only known cannabinoids. While endocannabinoids are naturally present within the body, there are cannabinoids that are present in nature (within the hemp plant) that are known as phytocannabinoids. The most well-known phytocannabinoids are THC and CBD, which you are already quite familiar with as you smoke marijuana. These cannabinoids, once inhaled, then act on the receptors within the body to produce the effects that you are familiar with.

THC- discovering the science behind marijuana

What Does Weed Do to Your Brain?

There are two major endocannabinoid receptors within the body: CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found throughout the body but are largely present within the brain while CB2 receptors are largely present in the body. Marijuana (THC) is most noted for its interaction with the CB1 receptors, producing the characteristic high that comes from the drug. But what does it accomplish exactly and is there any cause for concern? 

How Does Marijuana Affect The Brain? 

Once marijuana is smoked or otherwise absorbed or consumed, the THC floods the brain and begins to attach to these receptors. You will then start to notice many of the mental and physical effects of the drug, more of which we will describe below. That said, people will often ask whether or not marijuana will affect the brain in regards to causing harm over time for certain individuals. It is important that we address and dispel several of these harmful myths and improve education around the topic. 

The first misconception surrounding marijuana use and the brain is that smoking it will cause damage to your brain cells, especially in those who smoke frequently. While this is a popular myth, it is certainly not true. Heavy marijuana use may make you feel drowsy or out of it as a result of smoking often but your brain is safe during the process and you do not have to worry about your smoking habits leading to brain damage. 

That said, the jury is still out on whether or not cannabis use can impact the brain of developing teens. Since the brain is still working on building itself, marijuana may impact this process and change the way that the brain forms. Teen marijuana use should be avoided entirely.

How Does THC Affect the Brain?

At a steady rate, in the case of THC, it will cause specific regions of the brain that deal with thoughts, imagination, and perception to heighten to a point where whatever your senses pick up and what you are thinking about will become more enjoyable and interesting. But it also has the potential to cause anxiety in people not used to it. It should also be mentioned that marijuana has multiple cannabinoids besides THC that can affect you differently. More on that below.

THC specifically mimics the effects of the naturally occurring cannabinoid and neurotransmitter in, and amides. Your body uses amide throughout the nervous system by functioning to regulate hunger, sleeping, and pain relief in high quantities. It is known to impair working memory as well as influence signals that can result in epilepsy prevention. An amide is also involved in the immune system and has even been shown to inhibit breast cancer cells from multiplying.

Given that THC mimics this naturally occurring neurotransmitter, studies show that it behaves as if your system was having an increased amount of amide, for the most part, which is why many of the symptoms of marijuana use are directly related to the effects that amide has on people. These effects include sleepiness and muscle relaxation, hunger, influencing your immune system, and so on.

What Are the Effects? 

When you smoke weed, there are going to be several different effects hitting you at once as marijuana affects many different regions of the brain. Some feelings that you may experience when you smoke weed include a sense of paranoia, slower movements and thought processes, problems moving properly and issues with coordination, an issue remembering things, feeling as though things have slowed down or that reality has been altered, feeling various sensations and altered judgment, a feeling of euphoria, and a decrease in pain or pain responses. Depending on your strain of weed, you may feel some effects more than others or may feel them in different ways. 

Side Effects of Weed 

What makes weed such a desirable substance is that it is not like many other drugs that were and are still illegal. Unlike street drugs, weed is something that will not prove fatal if you take too much of it. It is physically impossible to overdose on weed. The worst that will happen is that you will become too high and fall asleep. That said, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any side effects that come with smoking the herb. Some of the most common side effects that come with smoking weed include bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, increased hunger and thirst, drowsiness, altered thinking and feeling, and potential anxiety. 

You should also be aware that there are still the harmful effects that come with smoking cannabis. If you are concerned about these effects, you should attempt to find another way to get your THC that doesn’t include smoking. 

Although smoking marijuana can often be more fun than learning about it, the science behind how marijuana interacts with the body is truly fascinating. If you have ever been curious as to why cannabis does what it does to your brain, the brief overview above will tell you more about marijuana and your body. 

Is Marijuana Addictive and can Anyone Overdose on it?

Though it should be mentioned, marijuana does have the potential to be addictive but simply saying it’s addictive can be misleading. Coffee can be addictive, sugar can be addictive, so can heroin and alcohol, but it would be crazy to say all four of those things create the same kind of dependency or the withdrawals experienced are the same because they’re not.

the science behind marijuana - dozens of rolled joints

Cases of marijuana dependency are extremely low lower, than alcohol dependency cases, and cases involving heroin.  About 9% of marijuana users claim to have developed a dependency on marijuana in contrast to 15% of alcohol users and 30% of heroin users who had developed dependencies on their respective substances. As a comparison, about 13% of coffee users have developed a dependency where without it, they became too sick to even go to work.

With that, unlike alcohol or heroin, there has never been a recorded case of someone overdosing on marijuana. In studies attempting to find the limit of THC consumption, scientists gave rats 40,000 times the dose needed to get them high and the rats only fell asleep for three days and woke up perfectly fine.

Practical Applications for Medical Purposes

the science behind marijuana - cannabis plant

There has been a lot of medical interest in medical marijuana it has been known to help increase appetite and reduce the vomiting in individuals with AIDS or HIV. It also has the same effect on individuals experiencing the side-effects of chemotherapy. It can help individuals with insomnia and high amounts of stress. Marijuana relieves chronic pain due to it being an effective anti-inflammatory substance, and it helps individuals who suffer from epilepsy, and even Tourette’s syndrome.

But it’s a common misconception that all marijuana is the same. Aside from just the THC, marijuana has at least 85 different cannabinoids, with each having the ability to impact a person differently.

In order to capitalize on specific components that could be used, marijuana growers have developed so many different strands of marijuana to the point that there are more breeds of marijuana than there are dog breeds, both for recreational and medical purposes.

Most medical marijuana strands used for helping people with specific disorders often have the THC bred out of them, one good example of this is Charlotte’s Web. By selectively breeding different types of marijuana that contain higher concentrations and lower concentrations of specific cannabinoids, certain medical marijuana breeds will not have the high that is caused by THC.

Charlottes Web - the science behind marijuana

People suffering from epilepsy often are prescribed marijuana-based medicines with the THC bred out of them and high concentrations of a chemical known as CBD or cannabidiol is enhanced. Clinical trials have shown that CBD or cannabidiol is extremely effective in controlling seizures and has saved the lives of multiple people. An example being then six-year-old Charlotte Figi whose parents were told she was going to die due to her constant suffering from grand mal seizures. After dozens of different medications failed to help control her over 300 seizures a week, as a last resort, her parents obtained medical marijuana designed to help seizures and the results were astounding! Medical marijuana has given Charlotte the ability to actually have a life! She now only suffers from two to three seizures a week which is a drastic improvement.

When was Marijuana First Discovered?

Marijuana first shows up in the archaeological record around 37 million years ago ranging from modern-day Kazakhstan to the eastern Himalayas. The plant evolved to make use of the chemical THC as a defense mechanism against plant-eating animals due to its extremely unpleasant taste and psychoactive effects that all of its potential predators are susceptible to.

Humans started using the plant within the last eight thousand years initially eating its seeds as a food source which is quite nutritious. It was later discovered that the plant stem could be used to make high-quality fibers due to being tough and rot resistant. These fibers are made out of cellulose and have been used to make durable items ranging from clothing, and rope to paper, and bowstrings for thousands of years.

We know this because many products made out of cannabis have survived all the way to today being used in societies, ranging from Spain, all the way to Taiwan before finding its way into the Americas with the Europeans.

The Fight for Cannabis Legalization Goes On

the science behind marijuana -People rallying for cannabis legalization with smiles on their faces while holding posters that contain positive messages about marijuana

So right now, there is a massive push by the medical community to make use of specific cannabinoids found in marijuana. This is to help us combat health problems.  Because it has the potential to be used to synthesize drugs that can help people who suffer from issues that can easily be prevented or controlled by increasing the number of cannabinoids within their system that don’t necessarily involve THC.

The push for cannabis legalization is also advocated by farmers, along with industries who are also interested in being able to use the fibers to make products such as clothing and so forth. So whether or not marijuana is something you’re interested in for recreational purposes, it could still be something we take interest in for medical purposes and save a few lives in the process.