What Happens When You Get High
Whether you smoke, vape, eat, or drink your cannabis treats, there are many common effects experienced by many users. From those who always get cottonmouth to people who seem to get the munchies every time they’re high, there’s a reason behind every cannabis side effect you’ve experienced.
If you’re curious about what happens in your brain and body as you get high, read on for the most common reactions to getting high and why they’re happening to you.
One of the most important discoveries about cannabis is that the cannabinoids within the plant can interact with your body in the same way as your natural endocannabinoid receptors. More than 100 unique cannabinoids have been discovered in marijuana plants, but the ones you’ve probably heard all about are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
Your natural endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that are made to bond with receptor proteins throughout the vertebrate central nervous system. Your central nervous system runs through the entire body and includes the brain. Any cannabinoid that enters your body through marijuana can bond with the receptor proteins in this system to produce a variety of effects.
Cottonmouth is a very common experience for people who enjoy cannabis. It includes an incredibly dry feeling in your mouth, but can also cause bits of spit and mucus along the roof of the mouth and can make the gums feel like cotton.
This effect happens when a cannabinoid (often THC) binds itself to one of the nervous system proteins in your submandibular glands. These are a pair of glands that are located on the floor of your mouth and produce 70% of your saliva. As the cannabinoid binds to this receptor, it stops receiving messages from the parasympathetic nervous system that controls how much saliva you create.
In many cases, dry mouth can mean you’re dehydrated, but this is not necessarily true when using cannabis. If your mouth feels increasingly dry after taking a hit, take small sips of water to minimize the sensation. Drinking too much water can be dangerous, so keep an eye on your liquid intake.
Everyone has a different personal tolerance to THC and CBD, so there is no exact dose that affects everyone in exactly the same ways. Factors can include weight, gender, physical fitness, diet, and much more. Regardless of your natural tolerance, many people discover that the more they imbibe, the larger doses they have to consume to feel the same effects.
At some point, the protein receptors that interact with the natural neurotransmitters in your body and to those introduced by marijuana stop reacting to the cannabinoids flooding your system. One study found a 20% drop in receptor activity for a week. This increase in your body’s tolerance can be reset in just a few days of reduced marijuana use. This same study found that receptor activity increased to normal levels in as little as two days.
Increased Heart Rate
If you’ve noticed that your heart starts beating really fast after smoking or eating some cannabis, the reason lies with the CB1 receptor that affects your vascular system. As your vascular resistance drops and lowers your blood pressure, your body needs to increase its heart rate to compensate for the slower flow of blood. While your heart can beat anywhere from 50-70 times a minute in a normal resting state, cannabis use can increase this to 70-120 beats per minute.
For many, this is a very mild effect and not really noticeable, but if you feel your heart pumping that much harder during a session, it’s a good indication that you should reduce your dosage. Studies do show that cannabis use is not associated with heart disease and does not do any damage by speeding up your heart rate throughout your session.
Even people who have never even considered marijuana have probably heard of the munchies. One major side effect of cannabis is that it can make you feel very hungry. Have you ever felt that you could eat whole pizzas single-handedly? Maybe you’ve eaten mountains of mac and cheese during a munchies episode? This is also caused by the bond between receptors and cannabinoids.
Your cannabinoid receptors are linked to the POMC neurons that are located in the hypothalamus. These are what control your appetite and the release of ghrelin — the hormone in your stomach that tells your brain it’s time to find some food. When you use marijuana, the neurons and hormones are activated, and you’re suddenly hit with a case of the munchies.
Laughter and its relation to cannabis have been studied for over a decade and a significant amount of research on the topic does exist. Your giggles aren’t just in your head. While getting giggly with cannabis doesn’t happen to everyone, laughter is known to be contagious, so this side effect can affect you by association.
The biggest study on cannabis and laughter explored how cannabis affects the blood flow between the left temporal and right frontal lobes of your brain. Both of these areas are associated with laughter and both see increased blood flow during a “high”. Your giggles may not be directly associated with cannabinoids and receptors, but your blood flow is controlled by your vascular system that does have a CB1 receptor with which cannabinoids can bond.
The way that movies portray the slow-motion effect cannabis can have on your body is not entirely fiction. Because getting high alters blood flow to your brain, it’s possible to affect your body’s sense of time. The cerebellum, which regulates muscle activity, is in charge of how you measure and experience time. Because of the altered blood flow to this area, many people who consume cannabis overestimate time by as much as 25%. This distorted sense of time generally leads to relaxation and stress reduction.
Were there any cannabis side effects you didn’t see on this list? Join the discussion in the comments!
Tess DiNapoli is an artist, freelance writer, and content strategist. She has a passion for yoga and interest in pop culture, and writes about everything from fashion and business to wellness and fitness.