Tetrahydrocannabinol or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a psychoactive drug that has the potential to alter moods and perceptions of a person. While there are many psychoactive drugs that have been found in nature, THC in particular is common only to the cannabis plant. In addition to the psychoactive nature, THC is also used as an analgesic to relieve pain. Furthermore, THC is also known to cause hunger in the people who consume it. We love THC.
While there are other noted effects of THC, none are as important as its effect on the human brain. The THC reaches the brain via the bloodstream within thirty seconds of inhalation and is a fast acting drug. THC attaches itself to the receptors on the cells of the nerves in the human brain and causes a disruption in the normal functioning of these cells. To further elaborate on this point, THC enters the nervous system by interfering with the working neurotransmitters which are the found in the space between two neurons. These neurotransmitters are attached to protein receptors. Drugs such as THC mimic neurotransmitters and hence cause movements that are considered abnormal human behavior.
In more scientific terms, the human brain has several receptors that are related to cannabinoid compound. There are two types of cannabinoid receptors which are a particular class of neurotransmitters in the body that attach themselves to the cannabinoid center in the brain. They are called CB1 and CB2. These compounds regulate the activity of the neurotransmitters and are responsible for activities such as coordination. THC that is traveling in the bloodstream of a person reaches the cannabinoid center and starts mimicking the properties of CB1 and CB2. It attaches itself to both these kinds of cannabinoid receptors which are responsible for movement and pain and effects these areas simultaneously.
THC further forces the brain to release a chemical called dopamine that causes the person to have a light headed ‘feel’ good feeling. This dopamine increase has an adverse effect on the senses and can make one feel happier. Additionally, THC attaches itself to the receptors in the Hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that controls hunger and possesses CB1 receptors. THC increases the amount of these receptors and causes a boost to the hypothalamus that increases hunger.
Long term effects of THC on the brain are still unclear. However, there are studies that are going on in this field. The study by Northwestern University and Harvard Medical School concluded that long term use does not cause dependency and addiction to the effect of THC. Among other differences, they found the Grey matter in the brains of marijuana users to be larger. However, other studies have revealed that taking THC on a regular basis in heavy amounts has adverse effects on mental health. People with heavy amount of marijuana usage have known to be mentally depressed when compared to people with low amounts. Long term use of THC has also been found to be associated with memory loss and cognitive impairments.
In many scientific papers, it has been recognized that young adults who take drugs related to THC such as weed have a higher chance of trying ‘harder’ drugs like cocaine at some point in their lives. They explain this theory by claiming that the effect of THC on the brain causes an addictive quality and the need for a ‘greater high’. As such, drugs such as cocaine that increase the dopamine amounts, like THC, in the brain start to seem attractive. However, scientific studies are still trying to establish this theory and there is further evidence to be considered in order to understand whether the THC in marijuana indeed can be called a ‘gateway drug’. We believe that alcohol is just as much of an “gateway drug”, and possibly even more so.