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Article Summary

Marijuana- What Happens in the Brain?

All of the cannabinoid receptors are located in the brain. There are no cannabinoid receptors in the spinal column, so using marijuana does not affect a person's ability to breathe or the function of other organs in the body.

Marijuana Affects Memory and Learning

When marijuana is smoked, THC and the other cannabinoids flow to the brain from the lungs, where the compounds are transferred into the bloodstream. The effects begin within minutes, generally with a feeling of light-headedness and euphoria (intense happiness). The user may become less inhibited, more outgoing, and laugh easily. At the same time, the user can experience a loss of motor control and difficulty concentrating. Since most of the cannabinoid receptors are located in the HIPPOCAMPUS, the center of memory and learning, people high on marijuana have difficulty learning new things or remembering what is happening at the moment. Marijuana does not destroy memories that already exist before the user gets high.

The Marijuana High

The typical marijuana experience is one of euphoria, heightened sensations of music and light, relaxation, and increased appetite. Sometimes, however, even the most experienced users will react differently. The drug can heighten anxiety and create PARANOIA—an uncomfortable feeling of danger or distress. When that happens, the user can do little but ride out the unpleasant experience, which usually happens within two to three hours.

The marijuana high gradually changes to a period of diminished physical activity and communication. The term "stoned" was coined to describe this period. In two to six hours the cannabinoid overload begins to exit the brain, usually causing a spike in appetite along the way. When users get hungry, they are said to have "the munchies."

It is not possible to smoke a fatal dose of marijuana. It is possible to consume too much THC by eating baked goods with hashish in them. Still this does not lead to death, but rather to a possibly unpleasant "trip" with paranoid or psychotic (extremely frightening) episodes. Again, no antidote to cannabis exists except trying to get the victim to vomit the undigested portion of the baked goods.

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