Photo by Keti Chikhladze, @immigrantstoner

Guides | 12.16.2021

How THC Activates Different Parts Of Your Brain

Learn about THC receptors in the brain and how THC activates different areas of the brain. Created with Pilgrim Soul.

If you’ve ever wondered what exactly marijuana does inside of your brain—and how it affects you mentally and physically—this guide is for you.

Cannabinoids (like THC) work alongside terpenes to provide specific effects and benefits. But how exactly do those cannabinoids interact within our brain? 

Let’s look at the science behind what happens inside your brain when you get high and how you can maximize those results.

THC In The Brain

Photo by Jonathan Coward for Herb

The human body contains a cell-signaling system known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS modulates many of our body’s most essential functions, such as metabolism, memory, liver function, reproductive system function, sleep, motor control, and more.

There are three core components to the ECS: 

Endocannabinoids

Our bodies make their own endocannabinoids on an as-needed basis.

However, our ECS can sometimes require more than our bodies can produce at a given time, resulting in an imbalance.

Fortunately, cannabis has phytocannabinoids that can work with the ECS to regulate homeostasis. Generally, we just refer to them as cannabinoids.

Receptors

There are two types of receptors that we know about, although research is hopeful that there may be more yet to discover.

The CB1 receptors are located throughout the central nervous system, and the CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system.

These receptors are like the lock to the ECS, and the cannabinoids are the keys.

Enzymes

Just like our digestive systems require enzymes to digest food in our stomachs, the ECS requires enzymes to break down cannabinoids once they’ve done their job.

There are two types in the ECS: fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol acid lipase.

Photo by Kaya Blaze Kelley for Herb

While some cannabinoids prefer one of the two receptors in the ECS, THC binds to both, affecting the mind and the body simultaneously.

For example, THC locking into the CB1 receptors produces what we know as a “high,” and provides physical effects like pain relief by attaching itself to the CB2 receptors. 

Remember how we mentioned that our bodies produce their own cannabinoids? One of those is a neurotransmitter called anandamide.

THC reaches your brain seconds after inhalation and behaves like anandamide by locking into cannabinoid receptors and activating neurons.

Any time neurons fire, physiological and psychological effects occur at varying levels.

Anatomy Of The Brain

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Inside the brain, cannabinoid receptors are highly concentrated in the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and hippocampus.

The basal ganglia are responsible for unconscious muscle movements, and when it receives a dose of THC, motor function may become impaired.

THC also affects coordination, which is controlled by the cerebellum. 

The extent to which these functions are impaired depends on the dosage of THC and the combination of other cannabinoids and terpenes present in the specific strain.

Yes, THC may cause slight coordination and motor function impairment, but it may also alleviate muscle spasms and chronic pain associated with particular movements. 

Perhaps one of the most stereotypical effects of smoking weed is memory loss. While not a hard fact and subject to everyone whenever they get high, there is some correlation between THC in the brain and this fuzzy recollection of recent events.

The hippocampus is located in the temporal lobe inside the brain and is directly related to short-term memory.

Therefore, when THC binds to its receptors, it obstructs our ability to recall recent events. 

High Thoughts

Photo by Keti Chikhladze, @immigrantstoner

Although there are some adverse side effects associated with weed, there are many benefits. In addition to the medicinal and therapeutic properties, smoking weed can also increase productivity and enhance creativity.

THC interacts with the cannabinoid receptors inside the brain’s frontal lobe, where creative and divergent thinking are born. By stimulating blood flow to the frontal lobe, THC encourages neurons to fire more freely.

This uninhibited blood flow allows the brain to dig into its creative well, often inspiring high thoughts. At the very front of the frontal lobe is the prefrontal cortex.

This is where dopamine is released, resulting in those feel-good juices that improve the mood and promote greater feelings of happiness.

Generally speaking, feeling happier also correlates to a more remarkable ability to think creatively and solve problems.  

Using THC Brain Power

Despite the negative propaganda saying that weed makes you lazy or unproductive, what we know about THC and the brain tells us otherwise.

So, don’t let life pass you, get high and use that brainpower! Certain strains can increase productivity, or inspire creativity or simply complement other activities you enjoy.

Here are a few of our favorite suggestions:

Listening To Music

Photo by Mathew Addington / Death to the Stock

Ah, few combinations are more enjoyable than getting high and listening to music.

Put on some noise-canceling headphones, and sit back with your eyes closed and let yourself be fully immersed in the auditory experience. Or, crank up the volume and have a dance party!

Smoking weed may even inspire you to make music, as we know, it’s worked for plenty of musicians. 

Explorative Cooking

Photo by Kristine Isabedra / Adobe Stock Photo

You don’t have to be a culinary genius to enjoy cooking. Especially when high. Find a recipe for something you’ve always wanted to try, spark up a doobie, and get to cooking.

If assembling a meal usually stresses you out, cannabis will help you relax and enjoy the moment. Not to mention, once the munchies kick in, you’ll enjoy the feast no matter what. 

Creative Journaling

Photo courtesy of Pilgrim Soul

Try a creative thinking journal if you are interested in ramping up your brainpower. These specially designed notebooks are meant to help you stretch your mind to new ways of thinking and get out of your comfort zone.

Continued practice will strengthen your ability to think freely. 

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Sweat It Out

Smoking Weed After Working Out Effects

Photo by Georgia Love for Herb

Exercise might not be the first thing you think of when you ponder what to do while high, but give it a try. Getting high before you work out can help you get in the zone and work out for longer.

Of course, the combo of weed and exercise isn’t for everyone, so consider your overall health first, and avoid any heart conditions that might contradict this practice.

Takeaway

If you are a new cannabis user, start small and take time to observe how marijuana affects you.

Be mindful of what kind of brainpower THC can have, and know that our bodies have an entire system devoted to processing cannabinoids that can improve our lives. 

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