Now more than ever, the science of marijuana needs a blog post. With so many states legalizing marijuana, we ought to know the answers to questions like, ‘how does marijuana affect your brain?’ And, ‘how does the endocannabinoid system work?
Heck, what is the endocannabinoid system? (ECS)
We better back it up and start at the beginning! Marijuana 101.
Cannabis sativa, a plant known more commonly as marijuana, is popular due to its induced psychological & euphoric states when ingested or smoked.
Many states are joining the party & taking steps towards cannabis legalization, but federal law still prohibits its sale and consumption. Why?
What is the deal with marijuana?
AN EVER SO BRIEF & CHERRY-PICKED HISTORY OF MARIJUANA 101
MORE HISTORY : WHY THE U.S. MADE MARIJUANA ILLEGAL IN THE FIRST PLACE
That slide show was embarrassing to assemble & I had nothing to do with it!
THE SCIENCE OF MARIJUANA
As I weeded through the plethora of scientific literature about the physiological & therapeutic effects of cannabis & cannabinoids, & deconstructed how the endocannabinoid system works, one fact stood out. (And yes, I am going to overuse puns)
I should be writing a book about cannabis, not a blog post.
A PubMed search for scientific journal articles published in the last 20 years containing the word “cannabis” revealed 22,771 results.
Use the word “cannabinoid,” and the results increase to 26,570 articles.
I ate chocolate & researched & gardened while I stalled to write this post. (hence the flowers above & my precipitous drop in website visitors)
Okay, I’ll stop whining & get to the science of marijuana & how the endocannabinoid system works.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) has attracted more scientific attention due to its involvement in many different functional processes in the brain, including the regulation of emotions, motivation, & cognition.
HOW DOES THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM WORK?
The endocannabinoid system is not only present inside human bodies but, in all vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, and birds.
This does not include our favorite pollinators, bees.
For the endocannabinoid system to function, it needs three components:
Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) & Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2).
Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters our bodies naturally produce to stimulate CB1 & CB2 receptors.
The two most well-understood of these molecules are called anandamide & 2-arachidonoylglycerol.
The links above have about 100 articles about each molecule and how they regulate our bodies.
Not going here today.
Even though the chart is not all that impressive, cannabinoid receptors are spread throughout the body – attached to cellular membranes – and are possibly more numerous than any other connective system.
Did I just say ‘PLANTS?’
What a perfect segue to the science of marijuana! Cannabis sativa is a plant!
MARIJUANA VERSUS CANNABIS
People–myself included interchange, ‘marijuana’ and ‘cannabis.’
For the record, cannabis is the botanical name for a genus of flowering plants.
Marijuana refers to cannabis strains, or their dried leaves, or flowers, which contain THC.
Back to the science of marijuana.
THE SCIENCE OF MARIJUANA
HOW DOES MARIJUANA AFFECT YOUR BRAIN?
A BRIEF WORD ON CBD
We’ve established that marijuana refers to the parts of the plant cannabis sativa that contain substantial amounts of THC.
The cannabis plant contains about 540 chemical substances!
Over 100 cannabinoids have been identified including THC & CBD. CBD or cannabidiol is the second most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis.
In January 2022, when analyzing over-the-counter cannabidiol (CBD) products, here’s what the Journal Of Epilepsy and Behavior found:
As in more than someone may want
Cannabinoids are considered to have fewer & milder side effects than many pharmaceutical drugs they may be able to replace.
Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking that “natural” products are side-effect free.
Currently, the FDA does not guarantee the safety, effectiveness, or quality of OTC CBD products. If you’re interested, here’s a 2022 article from Healthline that talks about several over-the-counter CBD oils w/ a brief tutorial on reading labels.
UNFORTUNATELY, MEMORY LOSS & CANNABIS USE IS A FACT
At least adult brains recover the cognitive impairments after a period of abstinence.
However, adolescent brains sustain permanent damage! That is a sobering side effect of THC & a bad answer to the question, ‘how does marijuana affect your brain?’
And we’re tiptoeing around the efficacy of CBD products & medical marijuana now.
If that’s the case, why are so many states legalizing marijuana?
Don’t walk away, let’s have a look.
WHY ARE SO MANY STATES LEGALIZING MARIJUANA?
As of May 2022, my state, Wisconsin is a holdout. Nothing is legal here.
Color me cynical but one reason states are jumping on the cannabis train could be tax revenue.
Federal law still prohibits the sale & consumption of marijuana.
Why is marijuana illegal under federal law?
WHY IS MARIJUANA ILLEGAL UNDER FEDERAL LAW?
My slide show went off on a tangent. Essentially, for marijuana to be removed from its Schedule I Classification:
Do opinions matter?
What is your opinion about legalizing marijuana? Have you used cannabinoids aka CBD to help w/what ails you? Noticed any side effects?
Learn anything new from my post?
This was really interesting. I’ve used edibles a few different times and had mixed results. If I knew marijuana would give me less side effects than my psych meds I would do that instead. But I want to see more research. The memory loss is definitely hard to overlook. Im not morally against legalizing it. That’s just for my personal usage.
I agree; cognitive loss–even reversible, is hard to overlook. I want to see more research too, but it seems as if that won’t happen without a schedule change. Thanks for sharing your experiences with w/edibles!
Wow, I didn’t know that our bodies manufacture endocannabinoids, but it makes sense. I think adults should be able to use marijuana the same way they can drink alcohol, but keep it out of the hands of teenagers. Thanks so much for this article! Amazingly well researched.
Our bodies are amazing! Thanks so much for commenting. I’m happy that you picked up a few facts!
I’m pro drug decriminalisation in all forms, to make it safer, reduce crime, and so people can get the help they need without fear of stigma. I believe that even though I suffered from drug induced psychosis
I’m so sorry to hear about your severe side effects. I agree with you about the decriminalization of marijuana. I’d like to see a reduction in the illegal market, to make it safer for consenting adults, which means legalization. Thank you for sharing your experience with marijuana!
Your flowers are gorgeous and so is this article. Chock full of information yet not dull or didactic. People are going to smoke, but it screws up kids so it may be better if it was legal federally, to better keep it out of the hands of minors. I learned a ton, thank you.
Thank you so much. I strive to make the science info lively! I’m happy you learned a lot from my research!
Your point about just because something is natural doesn’t make it safe – think of mushrooms, for example. It’s interesting that there are so many CBD products on the market (not that I’ve ever tried any) and this was a really in depth, useful article, thank you, Sue 🙂
Excellent analogy, Lisa! Natural is a marketing ploy, to be sure. I’m gratified that you found my research useful! Thank you!
What an in-depth post. I’m blown away by the amount of time and research you’ve put into this and have learnt a whole lot! I had no idea we naturally produce endocannabinoid!
I would love there to be a day where it’s decriminalised and legal all over the world, just because I’ve known people who use it to manage their MS/cancer side effects and seeing the benefits of helping those people really did turn my mind around on it.
I do however think there needs to be so much more research into it and using it for medical conditions, especially reading about the cognitive impairments. I do believe though that adults should be able to make their own choice about it though, especially when the likes of Alcohol and Cigarettes are legal.
I also hope that scientists can find more ways to incorporate cannabis into pharmaceuticals to help those in need. We’re in agreement about more research! For example, trying to find the answer to Mike’s munchie question didn’t yield any concrete results, just that, ‘it’s been doucmented that cannabis sativa promotes eating.’
I love your point about adults making their own choices. I stayed away from alcohol and cigarettes but that would be an intriguing post, comparing dependency issues, pros and cons! Hm…! Thanks so much, Jordanne.
Excellent job as usual. I have trouble with legalizing something that we know can harm our bodies to the extent that you described in the podcast. I do support the medicinal purposes for marijuana. I have used CBD oil for arthritis pain and it does help me. Thanks for the great discussion. One question, why does it cause the munchies? Mike
Great question! Scientists say, ‘Recent developments in the biochemistry and pharmacology of endocannabinoid systems have generated convincing evidence from animal models for a normal role of endocannabinoids in the control of eating motivation.’
It sounds as if the specific mechanism of action is not known. (here’s one article link
Great that CBD products give you some relief. The legalization issue is a tough one! Thanks, Mike!
Great post. So informative. Here in the UK it’s still illegal and I’m glad. It sounds a bit risky to be trusted.
AH, I was unaware of cannabis’ legal status in the UK! There are risks without question! Thanks!
This was an interesting post. I enjoyed the way you presented your information and shared stats. I think it should be legalised to make it safer and more regulated. More research is definitely needed though, esp about memory loss. I think like alcohol, which in my opinion is way worse, should be restricted to consenting adults. Let’s allow our kids brain to mature before they indulge in any substances.
Well put! We need to protect our kids. I’m glad that you liked my article. This one took me longer to compile than many; the amount of information and holes in the research were a challenge! Thanks so much.
In my opinion, I don’t think it should have been illegal in the first place. I think all they had to do was study it if they wanted to, present the facts to the pleople and then work to regulate, not stop it. This was very interesting to read.
The campaign behind the Marihuana Act of 1937 was not based on science and was sketchy, without question! I’m gratified that you found my post interesting. Thank you so much!
I do not know much about marijuana. Let alone the scientific facts from it. So this was an extremely interesting and informative post. Thanks so much for sharing all about it!
I’m so happy that you had some takeaways from my post! Thank you!
I quite enjoyed reading this post, especially with your fun graphics and slides! Your thoughts on how you should be writing a book stood out to me, but I think you have packed in enough information to make this a worthy read.
I have friends who smoke and eat edibles, and I know it works for what they use it for, so that seems like a good thing in my eyes. 🙂
Happy to hear that your friends garner results from their marijuana intake. Thanks so much for mentioning my graphics and slides! It adds a level of creativity! (Not like poems but I’ll leave that to you!)
What an interesting post, incredibly well researched, I learnt loads.
I was in America a couple of months ago, I didn’t know it had been legalised in some states but cottoned on fairly quickly….I too am cynical suspect being able to tax it plays a big part.
It’s not something I use or have any interest in using but not against legalisation, and think there should be research into how it can help with medical conditions
Ah, yes, we do share that cynical slant! I’m all for research too. Thank you for weighing in and for stopping by, Sarah!
Since it’s been proven that adolescent brains sustain permanent damage with marijuana use, I believe it’s wrong to legalize it and it’s shameful that states put tax revenue before the health of people.
I’m sure if you asked the state legislators they would say that they want cannabis available to help people. (!!) But I agree, we can’t ignore the issue of adolescents and permanent cognitive damage. Thanks, Amy!
A great, balanced argument. All backed up by science. Thank you for sharing.
I wanted to present the facts from all angles, pros, and cons, so I am excited that you think I achieved my goal. Thank you!
I definitely agree that taxation is a major motivator to legalize marijuana. Here in Canada, the government has opened its own sales to people both online and at brick-and-mortar stores. You can imagine how this could have an impact on the flow of finances. I’m sure the states that haven’t legalized it can see things like that and are realizing the potential.
Online sales in Canada? Wow! I didn’t know. Thanks for bringing that up. Yes, I am sure you’re right, and that the income potential will continue to tempt more states.
This is such an interesting read! Cannabis is illegal in the U.K. but there have been cases where people have challenged courts for medical needs but have failed.
Maybe that will change when more evidence about marijuana is unearthed with research. Thank you for sharing this!
I won’t lie, science goes straight over my head. I was never any good at it in school and couldn’t grasp the concepts and nothing has changed now as an adult, so a lot of this did go over my head but I think it’s great that you’ve provided such a lengthy informative post about this subject!
Science isn’t your cup of tea? No worries! I appreciate you taking the time to read my post!
Interesting and informative post! I have friends who use it for anxiety and sleep disorders, and I have no problem with the legalization. The memory loss is a big concern, though.
I agree that memory loss is an issue we can’t ignore. Thanks for sharing that friends have had success with using cannabis products!
I agree with your point of view, your article has given me a lot of help and benefited me a lot. Thanks. Hope you continue to write such excellent articles.
Thank you so much!