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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation


How does marijuana get you high?

The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient. The highest concentrations of THC are found in the dried flowers, or buds. When marijuana smoke is inhaled, THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream and is carried to the brain and other organs throughout the body. When marijuana is eaten, the effects take 30 minutes to one hour.

THC from marijuana acts on specific receptors in the brain, called cannabinoid receptors, starting off a chain of cellular reactions that finally lead to the euphoria, or "high" that users experience. Activation of the endocannabinoid system leads to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked with the reward system. Certain areas in the brain, such as the hippocampus, the cerebellum, the basal ganglia and the cerebral cortex, have a higher concentration of cannabinoid receptors. These areas influence memory, concentration, pleasure, coordination, sensory and time perception.

Feeling of a relaxed state, euphoria ("high"), and an enhanced sensory perception may occur. Some people who are novice users may feel anxious, paranoid, or have a panic attack, especially if they use higher amounts or higher strengths of THC.

Withdrawal symptoms can occur upon abrupt cessation of the drug, including:

  • anxiety

  • agitation

  • trembling

  • elevation of vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate

  • insomnia

  • irritability

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