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The effects of marijuana use have been well studied and, although questions remain, the brain chemistry is fairly well understood. The effects from smoking marijuana are due to the active ingredients found in the resin the plant produces. These are various sub-types of cannabinoids, a class of compounds that attach to cannabinoid receptors and alter neuro-transmission in the brain.
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Because there are slightly different effects, depending on the mixture of sub-types, marijuana has been bred with different concentrations of each type – giving different experiences to users. Primarily, it is a balance between two types of THC in the plant, delta-9 THC and cannabidiol (CBD). The ratio of these substances changes the experience users report. The picture is more complicated than this, with other cannabinoids present that contribute but are not well understood.
Users first feel euphoria and a sense of relaxation. When there is a relatively high percentage of CBD in the plant, they then may feel anxiety and paranoia. This also varies by user, with schizophrenia or underlying mental illness being particularly aggravated by marijuana use. After some time, and depending on what type of marijuana is smoked, users will either then feel disconnected and fatigued, or more anxious and nervous.
The effect of food cravings is well documented, and this has been used to advantage in patients who lose their appetites due to cancer therapy. At the Federal level, this is the only currently approved use for marijuana. Other users take the drug because it helps them with pain relief – especially when combined with opiate painkillers. Another popular use is as a sleep aid.
Depending on the mix of THC and CBD, users report they either feel more sociable (and talkative) or withdrawn. Some addicts find they tend toward one type of experience over the other, with the “withdrawn” experience (higher CBD to THC) preferred for medical use rather than the more sociable version (higher TCH to CBD ratio).
At extremely high doses, some users experience minor hallucinations, although this effect is generally unwanted.
Behaviorally, chronic use is noted for a lack of engagement with the world at large with addicts preferring to “withdraw into their habit.” Notably, motivation decreases and there is usually an associated weight gain with chronic lassitude coupled with periodic food cravings.
WHO photo by E. Mandelmann