The chemistry of cannabis: How medical marijuana affects your brain.

The medicinal compounds in cannabis.

Cannabis contains almost 500 compounds, 80 of which have been recognized for medicinal use. The primary compounds include:

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
Cannabidiol (CBD)
Cannabinol (CBN)

How marijuana works on your brain.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) causes the psychological effects that occur when you medicate with cannabis. You may feel happy and powerful. Your inhibitions may be lowered. Your thoughts might be racing from one random idea to another making concentration difficult.

Cannabidiol is another compound with powerful effects that make you feel calm and relaxed. Cannabidiol also has analgesic elements which relieve pain, along with anti-inflammatory and antipsychotic properties that are helpful in treating patients with Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, and other mental conditions. It also may help reduce the spread of cancer.

Welcome to Bio 101.
After you medicate, THC starts to play leapfrog with your brain’s cells, known as neurons. (Like many of us, you might not actually remember biology from high school, so here’s the CliffsNotes version.) Neurons are long, skinny cells that transmit messages. There are gaps (called synapses) between neurons, so chemical neurotransmitters step in to pass the messages across these gaps, much like the way email messages travel from one computer to another. Whether it’s natural or synthetic, a neurotransmitter bonds to a neuron, turning it on or off like a switch—telling the body to do or not do something. Most neurotransmitters are produced by the glands, but drugs can also mimic these chemicals.

THC mimics a natural neurotransmitter known as anandamide. Anandamide is a feel-good element, and it can boost memory, dull pain, and set your appetite into overdrive. THC mimics anandamide to a point but it has different effects.

THC is attracted to cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, which tend to hang out in the parts of the brain responsible for short-term memory, coordination, learning, problem solving and muscle movement. Since THC edges out the natural anandamide neurotransmitters, it can affect normal function in some of these areas. As a result, you may experience hunger, become forgetful, and be less receptive to pain.

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