Going Green: The Consumption and Inner-Workings of Cannabis
Going Green: The Consumption and Inner-Workings of Cannabis
It no longer surprises me to hear “Hey, want a joint?” or “Let’s blem” at parties, back alleys, parks, and even school. Friends with red eyes, clouds of smoke, the burnt-grass aroma, and an extended hand holding a rolled up paper with a lit end have become social norms.
Known as Mary Jane, weed, pot, marijuana, joint, etc. this plant-based drug’s popularity and prevalence extends more than any other recreational drug. The drug derives from Cannabis sativa, or hemp, a lush, tall plant with tooth-edged leaves (Figure 1.0) and its major drug ingredient called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
When users consume these drugs, they wait for the subjective effects of it without regard to the effects marijuana has on their biological systems.
Between the consumption and the giggles, the anxiety, the high, how does cannabis get into and affect our systems?
Users typically roll up the golden yellow or dark green resin, light it, and smoke it. Sometimes users smoke weed with a tobacco pipe.
The commonly bought resin is combined with tobacco ingredients to prevent overdose and to make it burn easier.
When smoked, THC burns with the plant material, vaporizes, cools, condenses into fine droplets, forms smoke, and enters the body through inhalation. Once inside, the drug dissolves into fats, clings to the lung lining membranes, enters the blood, swims to the heart; the heart pumps the drug all over the body, including the brain where majority of the cannabis receptors reside.
Most users prefer this way of ingestion so that they have power and regulation over how many puffs to take, in addition to the rapidity of drug activity in the brain.
Ingesting the drug via the mouth turns off users because of its unpredictability, slowness, and inaccuracy. Oral consumption of the drug leads the drug first through the digestive system—the liver, the metabolism—which minimizes its effects.
Its effectiveness and potency wear off with the gradual movement through the body, and the extraction of its nutrients—albeit the drug has very little to none—through the metabolism process.
Also, the liver breaks down THC into 11-hydroxy-delta-9-THC (11-OH-THC), a very similar molecule to THC but lesser in amount.
Plasma levels in 11-OH-THC amounts to only a third of THC’s, lessening its potency. Fig 2.0 illustrates the molecule mutation.
Medical authorities use dronabinol, capsules containing the drug suspended in sesame oil, the only legal formulation of THC.
Some users add their hashish in brownies. They call these brownies “hash brownies”.
Other Ways of Absorption
One may also take marijuana through the rectum. Consumption via the anus bypasses the digestive system; more importantly, the liver and the problems of metabolism. Rectal suppository allows for the delivery of drug twice to the brain while maintaining its potency and effectiveness. Significant variety among the outcomes of individuals who take this route call for more research.
Figure 3.0 shows the differences in the length of experienced highness using the three ways of consumption. Peak blood levels caused by THC occur within 1 to 4 hours of ingestion in oral absorption, whereas smokers reach peak blood levels by the time they finish smoking the joint. Smoking triumphs in the question of the most preferable way of intake, but users innovate new ways every time.
Cannabis in the Body
Visible effects of cannabis in the system include red eyes, giddy behaviour, uncontrollable laughter, etc. Underneath the surface, the drug works intricately to produce these effects.
THC, Cannabinol and Cannabidiol
Cannabis contains four hundred different chemical compounds, sixty-six of which qualify as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compound. THC (Figure 4.0) classifies as the primary cannabinoid from cannabis active in the drug. Cannabinol (Figure 4.1.) and cannabidiol (Figure 4.2) classify as the second, most active cannabinoids.
Before maturity in the plant, THC starts off as cannabinol. Cannabinol, with only 1/10 potency as THC, still gets users high but only at high doses.
Cannabinol combined with THC prolongs the intoxication but lessens its intensity.
As the plant matures, THC breaks down into cannabidiol. Cannabidiol creates no response at too much or too little dosage. At the right dosage, it appears to decrease anxiety and panic. Cannabidiol’s soothing effects may be what cannabis was traditionally used for, and what present and future scientists aim to use for medical treatments.
Cannabidiol combined with THC exaggerates euphoria and slows metabolism in the liver.
Travel to the Receptors
Cannabinoids—either THC, cannabinol, cannabidiol, etc.—enters the bloodstream. Through the network of capillaries, the cannabinoids hitchhike all over the body.
When cannabinoids get caught in the metabolism process, the liver— acting as the border official—, portions the blood into fat tissues and excrete them.
The cannabinoids that get through proceed to the brain where most cannabinoid receptors reside. The first prominent cannabinoid receptors—CB1—scatter in the hippocampus which houses memory, cerebellum which houses motor, and the thalamus which houses pain and emotion.
The second prominent cannabinoid receptors—CB2—loiter in peripheral systems such as in the spleen tissue and immune system, particularly in white blood cells. Low levels of CB2 receptors also reside in the brainstem. Exact functions in the immune system and the brain of CB2 receptors remain unclear.
Cannabinoids Ambush Communication in Nerve Cells
Cannabis affects users by altering the communications between neurotransmitters.
The cannabis drug enhances dopamine activation; the user feels a surge of adrenaline. Its interference with acetylcholine neurotransmitters manifest into memory problems. It also interferes with GABA, the neurotransmitters that govern sleep.
The cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) initiates nerve impulses. Adenylyl cases (AC) house the cAMP.
Canadabinoids inititates a domino effect: change one neurotransmitter’s activity, change the others, and mess up the system.
Cannabinoids alter communications of nerve cells when they clamp on the AC, fire at the protruding parts of the compound to trigger activity inside, slow down the nerve impulses that need cAMP to initiate nerve impulses, close neurons’ potassium channels, slow rate of firing, and decrease neurotransmitter.
Few users know the events that occur between ―taking the hit‖ and ―getting the hit.‖ Evidently, however, a myriad of complicated, intricate, neurobiological phenomena take place once consuming the drug to get the desirable effects of euphoria, ―high‖ and enhanced sense of humor, as well as the adverse and unwanted effects of anxiety, panic, and any other disorders that users may develop with short- and long-term use.
The seemingly little adverse effects, the long-standing traditional use, and the desirable subjective outcomes of marijuana render it a favourite recreational drug.
Earlywine, M. (2002). Understanding Marijuana: A new look at the scientific evidence. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
Iversen, L. (2008). The Science of Marijuana (2nd ed.). Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press
Room, R., Fischer, B., Hall, W., Lenton, S., & Reuter, P. (2010). Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate. New York: Oxford