Science Tells Us Exactly How Marijuana Makes Us Feel Happy

Your body manufactures its own 'bliss endocannabinoid' and marijuana helps fuel it.

Marijuana Make You Feel Happy
Photo by Ariana Prestes via Unsplash

After you enjoy a marijuana session, do you sometimes get an uncontrollable smile on your face? Or experience a bout of unrestrainable giggling? Welcome to the club of happy.


That feeling of bliss you’re feeling is rooted in science. But before we begin with endocannabinoid science, let’s have a quick lesson in etymology.

Just Another Word For Bliss

Anandamide is the reason you get that unmistakable feeling of happiness from consuming cannabis. Anandamide was discovered in 1992 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam — who, coincidentally also was the researcher who first isolated THC in 1964.

Mechoulam selected the word anandamide from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “joy, bliss, delight.”

So now we know that the word means bliss, let’s get back to the science. Why does marijuana make us happy?

Your brain contains anandamide and other cannabis-like chemicals that control happiness and euphoria. It acts as an an anti-anxiety and antidepressant agent.

It’s Like A ‘Runner’s High’ …. Without Breaking A Sweat

Have you ever experienced a “runner’s high” after a jog? Or have you enjoyed a chocolate truffle a little too much? That’s anandamide doing its job in your brain.

In the book Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, author Dr. Gary Wenk, writes:   

Anandamide inhibits the release of glutamate and acetylcholine within the cortex and hippocampus, an action that may underlie the ability of marijuana to impair one’s capacity to form new memories when using the drug. The presence of cannabinoid receptors in the parts of the brain that control movement may explain the stumbling behavior that some marijuana users experience. Cannabinoid receptors greatly enhance the release of dopamine; this action plays a critical role in the ability of marijuana to produce euphoria.

Cannabinoid neurons … influence the function of our cortex and various limbic (emotion-controlling) regions; when we stimulate these receptors, we impair higher cognitive functions as we experience euphoria, and when they are blocked, we feel depression.

So there you have it. Your body creates its own “bliss molecule.”


But What Does A Bong Hit Have To Do With It?

Not only is anandamide a naturally occurring chemical in your brain, it is also found in large amounts in THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. In fact anandamide is an endocannabinoid; the prefix “endo” means “within.” Your body essentially makes its own THC-like molecule. Cannabis is a phytocannabinoid; the prefix “phyto” means “plant.”

So when you ingest cannabis, you trigger the neurotransmitter in your brain. Or as Dr. Wenk writes:

The structure of the cannabinoids contained within the marijuana plant enable them to cross the blood–brain barrier and bind to a receptor for the brain’s very own endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter system.

Essentially, THC and anandamide act similarly —providing a sense of bliss or joy.


A 2013 study confirmed Dr.Mechoulam earlier finding:

THC interacted with emotional content, as activity in this network was reduced for negative content, while activity for positive content was increased. These results indicate that THC administration reduces the negative bias in emotional processing. This adds human evidence to support the hypothesis that the endocannabinoid system is involved in modulation of emotional processing. Our findings also suggest a possible role for the endocannabinoid system in abnormal emotional processing, and may thus be relevant for psychiatric disorders such as major depression.

 


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