Your Brain on Drugs: Marijuana


For centuries, humans have been using substances
to alter their state of mind. From caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol
to more extreme drugs. But as the most commonly used
illicit drug in North America, Where does marijuana fit in and how exactly does it affect your brain? First, we need to understand how the brain functions. Neurons are the cells that
process information in the brain. By releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters from the axon of one neuron
to the dendrite of another they change the electrical charge
of the receiving neuron consequently exciting or inhibiting it. If excited, the signal is passed on. Though it sounds simple
these signals work together and the effect is quickly compouned
into complex configurations within milliseconds flashing over the entire brain. This is what happens every single time
you think, breathe or move. So what is going on inside your brain
when you’re smoking marijuana? Well unlike alcohol, which contains molecules
nothing like those in our body, cannabis contains molecules that resemble those
produced in our very own brains: cannabonoids. Although naturally these cannabonoids
circulate at much lower quantities compared to the large influx imposed by smoking, specifically the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol or THC resembles a natural transmitter called “anandamide”. These cannabonoids are specialized neurotransmitters released by neurons having just fired. Neurons temporarily become unresponsive after firing to prevent them from overracting
or being too dominant. This allows your brain to function in a
calm and controlled manner. But cannabonoids interrupt this approach
in some parts of the brain. Instead, they remove the refractory period of neurons
that are already active and can cause your thoughts, imagination,
and perception to utterly magnify itself. This means, once you begin your train of thought it becomes the most significant
and profound thing ever. You can’t see the big picture
or even recall your last epiphany because you’re caught up in the momentum
of a particular idea and your neurons keep firing until a new idea takes hold
and you go off on a new tangent. These cannabonoids also affect the levels
of dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain often leading to a sense of euphoria,
relaxation, pain modulation and general enhancement of an experience, though sometimes causing anxiety. Furthermore, there are cannabonoid receptors in areas controlling short-term memory,
learning, coordination, movement control and higher cognitive functions. Got a burning question you want answered? Ask them in the comments
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