There are a few substances known to inspire laughter, cannabis and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are among them. The exact reasons why humans laugh are still a scientific mystery. For the most part, laughter is thought to facilitate social bonding. But, when it comes to cannabis, there are a few good reasons why the herb gives you the giggles. Here’s the scoop on what causes the giggles.
Why we laugh
Human beings are social animals. Language, laughter, friendship, sexuality and bodily movement are all examples of the complex ways humans communicate and bond with one another.
Unlike speech, genuine laughter is pure impulse. You can’t control when you laugh, rather laughter just sort of erupts when the time is right.
One theory suggests that laughter evolved from a panting mechanism common in apes. Today, even gorillas and chimps, our closest ancestors, makes a laugh-like panting sound when they are tickled or when they are playing with others.
Overall, the reason and purpose of laughter is unclear. However, it is clear that laughter is a social phenomenon. By some estimates, a person is 30 times more likely to laugh while in the company of others.
It’s also known that laughter rarely interrupts speech. Rather, it seems to be an accessory or punctuation for speech, displaying tone and mood.
Regardless, everyone knows that it feels good to laugh. Not all laughter is happy or related to humor, but in general, laughing out loud is a sign of excitement, fun, and joy.
Laughter is medicine
You may have heard the expression “laughter is the best medicine” about a million times in your life. But, is it true?
Some research from 2003 shows that genuine laughter may actually boost the immune system. It does this by lowering bodily levels of stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is one of several compounds that command the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, when cortisol is released, the immune system takes a hit. Cortisol is immuno-suppressant, meaning that chronic stress over time can make you susceptible to a wide variety of ailments and disease.
Laughter reduces stress, which in turn lifts mood and lets the immune system do its job. The giggles may have other benefits too, including:
Whatever you’re dealing with, a little bit of laughter may be just the medicine you need to thrive.
Why does weed make us get the giggles?
It’s clear that laughing more is probably good for you. But, why does cannabis give us the giggles? Well, as it turns out, the herb has some pretty amazing effects on the brain and our social behavior.
1. It boosts mood
Cannabis works in the body because it engages the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a large network of cell receptors and the corresponding molecules that bind to them.
When you consume cannabis, compounds like psychoactive THC engage these cell sites and trigger a reaction.
One of the primary functions of the ECS is the regulation of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are tiny chemical messengers that facilitate communication between brain cells, also called neurons.
Some of these chemical messengers include serotonin and dopamine, two key mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter implicated in depression, and it’s presence in the brain is thought to contribute to feelings of happiness and ease.
Dopamine is the pleasure and reward neurotransmitter. It helps direct attention, stimulates feelings of euphoria, and also allows us to react to pain.
The active compounds in cannabis stimulate the release of both of these neurotransmitters. THC directly causes a spike in dopamine, triggering feelings of glee and euphoria.
Low doses of THC have been shown to increase available serotonin in rodent models, and demonstrating the anti-depressant properties of the herb.
All in all, cannabis can rapidly lift your mood. What do you do when you’re in a good mood? Smile and laugh more frequently.
2. It alters blood flow
Not only does cannabis quickly change the chemical signaling of the brain, but it also changes blood flow. After a puff or two of some great herb, blood rapidly flows into certain brain regions. These regions include the right frontal and the left temporal lobe.
As it turns out, the right frontal lobe is responsible for processing humor. When this brain region is damaged, it can cause individuals to lose emotional effect, smile and laugh less, and lose some appreciation for humor.
Interestingly enough, the right frontal lobe also helps process verbal and working memory, which cannabis can impact. The herb causes the most blood-flow changes in the frontal lobes, which perhaps contributes to its ability to stimulate laughter.
3. It’s infectious
When someone else yawns, you yawn. When someone smiles, you smile back. When someone looks angry, you may notice that you become a little stressed. In a way, human beings are giant mirrors of each other. Believe it or not, there is a scientific reason for this.
Special brain cells aptly named mirror neurons allow humans to pick up on and mimic the body language and mood of others. Mirror neurons are found in various parts of the brain, including regions that control thinking and movement.
Neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni of the University of California in Los Angeles explains how these neurons work,
[I]f you see me choke up, in emotional distress from striking out at home plate, mirror neurons in your brain simulate my distress. You automatically have empathy for me. You know how I feel because you literally feel what I am feeling.
Some researchers think these neurons also help us respond to laughter. The theory is simple, you see someone laughing and your brain activates in the same way.
After a little cannabis, you’re in a better mood and have increased blood circulation in the part of the brain linked to the appreciation of humor. So, when someone around you starts laughing, it’s not surprising that you may quickly find yourself in a fit of giggles right along with them.
Unfortunately, laughter is not guaranteed every time you consume cannabis. Your external and internal environments significantly impact the overall effect of the herb.
It’s not uncommon to break out into giggle fits when sharing a few puffs of your favorite strain with a friend. But, in other circumstances, you may find that you don’t feel like laughing much at all.
When Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam first discovered psychoactive THC, he designed a little experiment. He put purified THC into slices of cake and served them to his friends. He noticed that the cannabinoid had a different impact on everyone.
He explains in the documentary, The Scientist,
All of those who took THC were affected. But, surprisingly, they were affected differently. Some said: ‘well, we just feel kind of strange, in a different world, we want to sit back and enjoy. Another one said ‘nothing happens’, but he didn’t stop talking all the time. A third one said, ‘well, nothing’s happened’, but every 15-20 seconds he’ll burst out laughing.
These effects are all well-known today. People are differently affected. In one case however, one of the participants got into an anxiety state. She felt, I believe, that her psychological guards are breaking down.
For some reason, perhaps genetic factors or biochemical reasons, some people may be more susceptible to THC-induced laughter. As Mechoulam suggests, every person responds to cannabis differently.
Tolerance to THC also contributes to how much you laugh after consuming. Those with a low tolerance may find themselves laughing until their eyes tear up after just a couple of tastes of the herb.
More experienced consumers may need a considerable amount of cannabis before they can feel the same effect.
Certain strains are more likely to inspire laughter than others. Unfortunately, the effects of different cannabis strains have not been studied. So it is unclear why particular varieties seem to cause the giggles more than others.
However, here are a few strains that can put a smile on your face:
Cannabis causes the giggles for a few of different reasons. It alters your brain chemistry, boosting mood and causing feelings of happiness and euphoria. It also causes more blood (which brings vital oxygen!) to flow into areas of the brain that control response to humor.
Thanks to mirror neurons, laughter is also infectious. When you see someone else smile, be it a friend or someone on television, we have the natural inclination to smile back.
All this laughter and happiness can boost the immune system by decreasing the creation of immuno-suppressant stress hormones like cortisol.
So, all in all, cannabis lowers stress and puts you into a happy-go-lucky kind of mood.
Now, it’s time to gather up some friends, put on a funny movie, and light up some herb. Enjoy!