Ahh, cannabis. You’re pretty sure you know how it works, right? Smoke it, vape it, eat it, dab it, or hell, rectally insert it and enjoy the high. While the process is simple, the chemical dance between your endocannabinoid system and the more than 500 chemical compounds found in weed is beautifully complex, kind of like those Magic Eye posters from the ’90s. So what exactly is going on when you get high?
Dr. Kevin Hill, author of Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth about the World’s Most Popular Weed; biologist Brent Leighton; and biochemist Mac Hyman of IRON Laboratories lay it down.
THC: the A-list celebrity of cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that interact with receptors in your brain. You’ve probably heard of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid that gets you high. “THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, and this binding affects the production of dopamine, a brain chemical or neurotransmitter that activates reward circuits in the brain that produce the high,” Dr. Hill says. Dopamine is the same chemical your brain releases when you play Call of Duty or bone your Tinder date. It basically gives you a hit of pleasure.
But before you equate weed, sex, and CoD, just stop for a minute and appreciate the fact your body is designed to receive molecules from the cannabis plant... and that you have these cannabinoid receptors even if you’ve never smoked pot. Intelligent design might have something to it, after all.
“Endocannabinoid receptors evolved in every vertebrate animal in the world and are receptive to cannabinoids, so it does show you how universal it is, that we all need that system,” Hyman says. “Humans discovered (cannabis) thousands of years ago and have been selecting it for traits that best fit them medicinally. We found a plant that mimics our endogenous hormones, and the result is thousands of strains of high-potency cannabis throughout the world.” According to Hyman, just as weed is found worldwide, cannabinoid receptor sites are found everywhere in your body, but they’re concentrated in the brain (the CB1 receptors) and immune system (the CB2 receptors).
Basically, humans found something that made them feel good, then bred it specifically to make them feel better, and now we've reached the highest possible level of evolution: the bicycle pot delivery guy.