The cannabis plant produces over 480 compounds, dozens of which are known as cannabinoids. They’re the active ingredients responsible for how marijuana affects people – whether they’re enjoying it recreationally or using it to treat an illness. From euphoria to enhanced enjoyment of flavors, cannabinoids can significantly impact the brain and body. The reason they’re able to do this is that they interact perfectly with the human endocannabinoid system.
Think of the endocannabinoid system as a network of electrical outlets in the central nervous system, including the brain. When various chemicals plug into these outlets, known as cannabinoid receptors, the receptors activate and specific things happen. The receptors control things like movement, mood, memory, pain sensation, and appetite.
What kind of chemicals plug into the brain’s cannabinoid receptors? There are three kinds. First, there are endocannabinoids, which are chemicals naturally produced in the brain. These include endocannabinoids like anandamide, also known as “the bliss molecule” (which is also found in chocolate).
Cannabinoid receptors also react to synthetic, or chemical-based cannabinoids produced in a lab. Finally, the natural cannabinoids in marijuana plants (also known as phytocannabinoids) fit perfectly with cannabinoid receptors to create a variety of effects.
The kind of effects produced depends on the type of cannabinoid that’s introduced. Each strain of marijuana contains a long list of cannabinoids that can create euphoria, treat pain, increase heart rate, and generate drowsiness, among many other effects. These effects are what’s behind the health benefits of cannabinoids. How marijuana will make you feel depends on the type and concentration of cannabinoids it contains.