HOW DOES THC MAKE ME “HIGH”?
A cannabis plant produces over 400 different chemical compounds in its lifetime, and yet the most famous compound is THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol.
THC and other cannabinoid chemicals in marijuana are similar to chemicals that naturally occur in the body. These natural cannabinoids, such as “anandamide,” function as neurotransmitters because they send chemical messages between nerve cells throughout the nervous system. They affect brain areas that influence pleasure, memory, coordination, movement, thinking, concentration, and sensory and time perception. This similarity enables THC to attach to molecules called cannabinoid receptors on neurons in these brain areas and activate them, altering various mental and physical functions. It’s in this process of “alteration” that produces the experience and sensation of being “high”.
THC is also able to alter the functioning of the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex, brain areas that enable a person to form new memories and shift the focus of their attention. It also stimulates neurons in the reward system to release the signaling chemical dopamine (the “feel-good” hormone) at levels higher than typically observed in response to natural stimuli.
This flood of dopamine contributes to the pleasurable “high” that is sought after by cannabis users.