How Does Cannabis Affect Your Brain?

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The Endocannabinoid System threads throughout the human anatomy. Disturb any of the points in that system, and you trigger pain and reduce the immunity to disease and infection. The cannabinoids in cannabis match with receptors in that system to assure their balance and process.

But, cannabis is an FDA listed Category I drug, so it’s worth looking at the facts about how cannabis does affect your brain.

What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds that generate the different parts of a cannabis plant, including the aroma, flavor, potency, and so on. You could describe them as genetic markers (although is not quite correct.)

There are more than 80 cannabinoids, but the best known are:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Cannabinol (CBN)
  • Cannabichromene (CBC)
  • Cannabigerol (CBG)
  • 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)

Most people know that the THC provokes the desired or undesired psychoactive effects of smoking, inhaling, or dabbing cannabis. And, CBD is the root of most medical marijuana treatments because of its demonstrated anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and anti-spasticity benefits.

Less well-known cannabinoids include:

  • CBN boosts the effects of THC and CBD. It has mild psychoactive qualities because it results from an oxidation process that includes THC. However, it will reduce anxiety, muscle spasm pain, and pressure on the optic nerve.
  • Cannabichromene (CBC) has relieved pain and inflammation including the smooth muscle of the gastrointestinal system.
  • Cannabigerol (CBG) is the chemical parent of CBD and THC. But, research is accumulating that shows CBG relieves glaucoma, irritable bowel syndrome, Huntington’s Disease. And, one significant study showed it slowing the progress of colorectal cancer.
  • 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) is a lipid molecule.
  • a lipid (fat) molecule known as an endocannabinoid. Endocannabinoids are like the body’s own cannabis. 2-AG is one of two primary endocannabinoids, and it has various functions inside the body. Together, these endocannabinoids are a part of a larger endocannabinoid system (ECS). Endo- refers to inside the body.
  • 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) is a lipid, a fat molecule that delivers messages in a neurotransmission system. It delivers messages to the cells it meets that help them maintain their balance and rhythm. It improves moods, memory, sleep, and even reproduction.

How do they work?

Humanneurophysiology.com explains, how “The central nervous system is kept continually informed of the ever-changing external and internal environment of the body by way of centrally directed signals which arise in its many and varied receptors.”

In the body’s chain of neurons, each neuron has fibers jutting in different ways. These “tails” transmit messages on pressure, taste, temperature, smell, sound, and other sensory changes. The body also has an endocannabinoid system which affects appetite, mood, sleep, and other functions. Cannabinoids bind with the receptors in this system as well as the central nervous system and immune system.

Cannabinoids match and trigger CB1 in the immune system and CB2 receptors in the brain. THC targets the CB1. But, CBD is less decisive. Project CBD says, “cannabidiol activates several non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels. CBD also acts through various receptor-independent channels—for example, by delaying the “reuptake” of endogenous neurotransmitters (such as anandamide and adenosine) and by enhancing or inhibiting the binding action of certain G-coupled protein receptors.”

Then, things get complicated. CBD leaches through the cell membrane to increase the release of 2-Arachidonoylglycerol contributing to the relaxing effect. CBD offsets the negative results of THC, effectively enabling its positive effects. That balance empowers the endocannabinoid system to reduce the perception of pain and the inflammatory process.

And, recent research finds CBD inhibiting the IS-1 gene suggesting that it may help treat certain cancers.

How does cannabis affect your brain?

CBD does have psychoactive effects on the brain, but the effects are much lower than THC. CBD crosses the blood-brain wall. Huffington Post says, “CBD is a powerful anti-epileptic, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-nauseate, sleep aid, muscle relaxant, sedative and anti-proliferative.”

While THC binds directly with CB1 receptors, CBD stops compounds from binding. So, it not only reduces the effects of THC, but it also reduces the anxiety and memory issues that might attach to THC.

CBD also increases anandamide, the “bliss molecule” levels in the brain. Anandamide, in turn, regulates serotonin and dopamine which affect depression. It promotes neurogenesis, the formation of new cells important to appetite, fertility, memory, motivation, and pain perception.

Continuing research has focused on how CBD slows blood flow to the areas of the brain related to anxiety. This effectively reduces the stress of oxidization contributing to the death of cells seen in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

CBD specifically lowers extra excitement in brain cells in epileptic patients. This reduces seizure frequency and intensity and, thus, protects brain cells. While simultaneously relieving the anxiety and depression that attach to such conditions, CBD is making gains in research scrutiny and pharmaceutical development.

Research reported in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology lists the following as benefits of CBD:

  • Antiemetic -- reduces nausea and vomiting.
  • Anticonvulsant -- suppresses seizure activity.
  • Antipsychotic (combats psychosis).
  • Anti-inflammatory (decreases inflammation).
  • Antioxidant (combats oxidative stress).
  • Anti-tumoral, Anti-cancer (combats tumor, cancer cell growth).
  • Anxiolytic, Antidepressant (combats anxiety and depression).

However, the lack of authorized research on human subjects keeps you guessing. You are left to consider using cannabis in moderation if you want to optimize its health benefits, to select strains where it balances with the THC content, to prefer intake other than smoking, and to avoid alcohol when treating with CBD.