How cannabis works in your body

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You know how when a person runs they can get a “runner’s high”? It’s because when you do aerobic exercise your body creates endorphins – feel-good chemicals in the brain that our bodies release during physical activity. These endorphins find receptors in the brain and give you a feeling of diminished pain and a sense of well-being which translates to that “high.”

It’s very similar to the feeling you get when you ingest cannabis.

This is because everyone has an endocannabinoid system (just like we have a nervous system and a digestive system) which works in a similar manner, but instead of self-creating the chemicals, called cannabinoids, for the receptors, you get them into your body by ingesting cannabis. Amazingly the human body already comes with specific receptors for those cannabinoids. These receptors work to pass messages between the brain and various parts of the body.

The endocannabinoid system has two different types of receptors.

CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and central nervous system, and to a lesser extent in other tissues. THC binds to CB1 receptors and is responsible for the euphoric and anti-convulsive properties of cannabis.

CB2 receptors are mostly in the peripherals organs, especially cells associated with the immune system. CBD binds with CB2 receptors and is responsible for helping with anti-inflammatory and neuropathic pain issues. CBD can also modulate the effects of THC.

When you ingest cannabis, you “take it all in” which means that you are ingesting all of the cannabinoids in the product. There is something called an Entourage effect which is a theory presented by Israeli scientists. This theory postulates that cannabinoids within the cannabis plant work together or possess synergy, and affect the body in a mechanism similar to the body’s own endocannabinoid system. This means that while the cannabinoids are fitting into specific receptors, they also work together to affect multiple targets within the body, improve the absorption of active ingredients, overcome bacterial defense mechanisms, and minimize any side effects. In essence what the scientists are saying is that the whole of cannabis is greater than the sum of the parts with regard to how it works on the body.

Interestingly humans do not have cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem. This is why you can’t overdose on cannabis. Oh sure, you can get too “high” and you might be glued to the couch for a few hours, but it won’t stop your breathing like an opioid overdose can do.

So what does this all mean?

By knowing that we have an endocannabinoid system, you can tailor how you use cannabis. Are you looking for a relaxed or calming effect or a decrease in pain? Then concentrate on products containing THC which will bind with your CB1 receptors.

Are you using cannabis for body inflammation or anxiety? Then focus on strains containing CBD which will bind with your CB2 receptors.

If you have systemic pain and inflammation you might try a product that combines THC and CBD in a 1:1 ratio, you’ll get the therapeutic benefits of each and because they work together with the receptors, you won’t get the head involvement that is typically associated with higher THC products.

Bottom line – the more you know about how cannabis works on the body, the better able you will be to tailor its effects to your own body’s needs.


Wendy E. N. Thomas is a candidate for the New Hampshire House of Representatives Hillsborough County, District 21. She is also in the NH Therapeutic Cannabis program. Wendy agrees with the State-wide Democratic platform of legalizing cannabis in New Hampshire, she would also like to see the Therapeutic Cannabis program expanded to include Anxiety, Lyme Disease, and insomnia (for starters.)

Wendy also understands that people need to know about what cannabis can do, how to keep it away from children, and how to use it responsibly (in the same way that the alcohol industry talks about responsible drinking.)

All opinions reflected in this article and any future articles on the Democratic cannabis platform are the opinions of Candidate Thomas and do not reflect any company or industry.

Wendy works at Prime ATC in Merrimack as a Patient Liaison. The contents of this article are not sanctioned by Prime ATC or any of its affiliates.