For more than three thousand years, the psychoactive function of Cannabis has been praised and cherished throughout the world. Most of us have heard of THC, the essential component in Cannabis that produces the psychoactive effect that makes humans high. But did you know that the human brain possesses its very own natural equivalent to THC?
THC, the primary psychoactive component in Cannabis, is known to scientists as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. It belongs to a group of chemical compounds called cannabinoids which are the different types of molecules present in Cannabis. Out of all the 66 cannabinoids present in Cannabis, THC, because of its widely appreciated psychoactive effects, is the only one that has reached celebrity status.
To understand the effects of THC we need to take a look at how our brains function. The brain is operated by around 100 billion neurons (nerve cells) which all process information about specific functions. The neurons communicate with each other through neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that control the signals sent between the neurons, and receptors which receive these signals. Foreign chemicals, like THC, can mimic or block actions of neurotransmitters and can therefore either stimulate or diminish the communication between sets of neurons. When you smoke a joint, the cannabinoids from the marijuana or hashish that you smoke make their way into your bloodstream via the lungs. Within seconds the bloodstream carries the cannabinoids all over your body and into your brain.
As soon as the cannabinoids enter the brain they immediately behave like neurotransmitters and begin to bind to very specific cannabinoid receptors that certain neurons have. Human beings possess a great abundance of cannabinoid receptors both in the brain and in the body. The really amazing thing is that if the cannabinoid receptors were not present in our body, the cannabinoids would have no effect on us. In other words, if we did not have cannabinoid receptors, we could never get high.
How can it be that humans have these special cannabinoid receptors? For any drug for which there are receptors in the human brain, we have to ask ourselves the logical question: why do these receptors exist? The answer is quite simple; there must be in the human brain a compound that is pharmacologically similar to THC and that is naturally produced in the brain. In order for these cannabinoid receptors to exist there must be some kind of natural THC already present in every single human brain. In fact, several such compounds have been found. The most studied one is called anandamide and does indeed share many of the pharmacological effects of THC.
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter and what we call an endocannabinoid, which means that it is a cannabinoid naturally produced in the body. In other words, Anandamide is the neurotransmitter that functions as the natural THC of the brain. Just like THC, it acts on cannabinoid receptors, which are most abundant in brain structures like the basal ganglia and the cerebral cortex. These are centres of the brain associated with motor control, emotions and higher cognitive functions. Moreover, anandamide has been shown to play a role in human behaviour such as pain relief, the neural generation of motivation and pleasure, and the regulation of appetite. Both anandamide and THC stimulate food intake in animals and humans; an effect wellknown as ‘the munchies’.
Anandamide also plays a significant role in the activation of a brain structure called the nucleus accumbens. This structure has traditionally been studied for its role in addiction, but it plays an equal role in laughter, pleasure and rewards, such as food and sex. Interestingly, a recent study found that the nucleus accumbens is also involved in the regulation of emotions induced by music; an effect that should be familiar to any marijuana smoker. The effects of
THC are in fact a mirror image of the natural effects of anandamide.
Neurological studies on cannabis have led to a deeper understanding of the natural effects of anandamide. Effects of marijuana include relaxation, euphoria, altered space-time perception; the enhancement of visual, auditory and olfactory senses as well as appetite stimulation and analgesic effects. Knowing that THC and anandamide bind to the same receptors tells us that the effects of marijuana are similar to effects occurring naturally in the brain through the release of anandamide. Further studies of this neurotransmitter in comparison with THC will give us an amazing opportunity to glance into the mechanics of our own minds and bring us one step closer to discovering the secrets of normal, as well as altered, states of human consciousness.
Health Aspects Of Cannabinoids:
Endocannabinoids seem to play a part in almost every major life function in the human body.
Cannabinoids act as a bio-regulatory mechanism for most life processes, which helps to explain why cannabis has been cited as an effective treatment for a range of diseases and ailments.
Some of these include: pain, arthritic conditions, migraine, headaches, anxiety, epileptic seizures, insomnia, loss of appetite, GERD (chronic heartburn), nausea, glaucoma, AIDS wasting syndrome, depression, bipolar disorder (particularly depression- manic-normal), multiple sclerosis, menstrual cramps, Parkinson's, trigeminal neuralgia (tic douloureux), high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome and bladder incontinence.