How Cannabis Works

A pure cannabis joint containing no tobacco.

Cannabis is a recreational and medicinal plant

Recreational and medicinal-quality psychoactive cannabis comes in several forms; herbal bud (dried flowering tops), resin (hash), kief, keef or kif (sometimes kief), which are the powdery resin glands (or trichomes), and oil. Referred to by many slang terms, cannabis is usually rolled into cigarettes known as joints, but can also be smoked in a pipe, vaporized, made into milky or alcohol-based drinks and hot beverages, or eaten. If cannabis is smoked, the effects are usually felt within minutes; if eaten, the full effects can take up to an hour and are cumulative, often longer lasting and the uptake can be more variable.

When inhaled, cannabis compounds (cannabinoids) rapidly enter the bloodstream via the lungs, to be transported directly to the brain and other body parts. The delta-9-THC binding causes the feeling of being stoned or high to cannabinoid receptors in the brain.1 There are also cannabinoid-like substances produced naturally by the brain itself, called endocannabinoids. Researchers at Hebrew University in Jerusalem identified the body’s form of THC and christened the internally manufactured substance “anandamide” after the Sanskrit ananda, or bliss.2 Most of these receptors are found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, and time perception. They are also involved in cognition, pain perception, and motor coordination.

People’s experience after using marijuana

Around one in 10 people have reported unpleasant experiences at some point in their cannabis use, including confusion and anxiety. The same person may have either pleasant or unpleasant effects depending on their mood and circumstances. Side effects of cannabis use can include increased pulse rate, visual and sleep disturbance, decreased blood pressure, bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, increased appetite, and mild lethargy. Heavy usage may result in feelings of paranoia while under the influence. However, these side effects are temporary and pass quickly, mainly affecting people who have not used cannabis regularly. Cannabis consumers are therefore advised to accustom themselves to its use with smaller doses initially.
The most common effects of cannabis use are a sense of relaxation, happiness, sleepiness, and an enhanced appreciation of external stimuli, with some consumers reporting that colors appear more intense. Many reports becoming more animated, with a corresponding release of inhibitions, making them more talkative and humorous. Cannabis can also heighten sexual thoughts, desires, and experiences. In India, cannabis has been used for thousands of years as an integral part of Tantric sex, which is not about sexual gratification, but rather a devotion and worship; at the point of orgasm the devotee is said to be at one with the universe. Thought processes become enhanced and many philosophers, musicians, writers, poets, and artists report using cannabis to increase their creativity. Many consumers report that listening to music and viewing artworks become much more profound experiences while under the influence of cannabis.

Inhaling cannabis is the quickest way to administer a dose

The amount of time cannabis takes to be felt is dependent on the route
of administration. Inhaling cannabis is the quickest way to administer a dose; vaporized or smoked cannabinoid material arrives in the lungs very quickly, entering the bloodstream and rapidly passing into the brain, and becomes active within minutes, with its effects lasting for several hours. If eaten, the cannabinoid compounds have to be absorbed from the stomach and then pass through the liver, where a percentage is metabolized into 11- Hydroxy-THC, which is four to five times more psychoactive than Delta9- THC.3 It can take from 30 minutes to an hour to reach the brain, with the full effects taking up to three hours.