The science behind red eyes and cotton mouth.
According to the United Nations, about 158.8 million people around the world, or more than 3.8 percent of the world’s population, use marijuana.
As marijuana continues to be legalized for medical or recreational purposes, public support of the drug seems to be on a steady increase. Pew Research reports that 7 out of 10 Americans believe alcohol is more harmful for a person’s health than marijuana, and that support for marijuana legalization is rapidly outpacing the opposition.
Pot is best known for its euphoric effects and giving smokers the notorious “munchies,” but there are a number of other effects on both mind and body that occur while an individual is “high.”
The high comes from a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and most of THC’s effects happen in the brain as the chemical interacts with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors.
Here are 8 things that happen in the brain and body after smoking marijuana.
1. Your balance gets messed up
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, THC messes with two brain areas — the cerebellum and basal ganglia — which regulate balance, coordination, posture, and reaction time.
Since these brain areas become disturbed, smokers under the influence of marijuana have a harder time walking and become clumsier than usual.
2. Your ability to drive becomes impaired
Although a study by researchers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that it’s much safer to drive high than drive drunk, the researchers noted that the report’s findings “do not indicate that drug use by drivers is risk-free.”
Since THC messes with the areas of the brain associated with coordination and reaction time (as mentioned above), NIDA says this also impairs a person’s ability to drive while on the drug.
3. You feel euphoric
When THC hits the brain, a feel-good brain chemical called dopamine gets released. Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system, so a rush of dopamine activity in our brains can make us feel euphoric, which is why many people are drawn to marijuana.
There is a downside to this euphoric rush, however. Too much of it can be a problem — over-triggering the dopamine response can make it harder to feel happiness from other “rewarding” experiences. It takes a lot of pot smoking to get to this point though, according to the researchers behind the study.
4. Anxiety, paranoia, and panic are common side effects
Business Insider reports that intense anxiety is one of the most commonly reported side effects of marijuana use — somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of smokers report that they react with feelings of anxiety, paranoia, distrust, and panic after smoking.
These anxious side effects could have something to do with the specific ratios of THC and CBD (the compound cannabidiol) in different strains. There are two major classes of weed — indicas and sativas. Indicas are said to provide more of a tingly body high, while sativas stimulate the mind more than the body. So based on the type of pot, some highs can be more euphoric and giddy, while others are more anxiety-inducing.
5. It can cause red eyes
The typical pothead in movies can usually be found vegged out on a couch with snacks and half-closed, bloodshot eyes. Why do some marijuana smokers’ eyes get red?
Marijuana causes the blood vessels in the eye to expand, which brings about the stereotypical bloodshot eyes.
6. The infamous “cotton mouth”
Along with red eyes, another staple side effect of smoking pot is the dry mouth that many users report. The uncomfortable, dry feeling isn’t just the result of inhaling smoke — there’s actually cannabinoid receptors located where our saliva is produced.
When these receptors are activated by cannabis use, the production of saliva is restricted.
7. You get the munchies
After smoking, many users report the craving to eat just about anything and everything they can get their hands on. The infamous “munchies” are thought to be caused by THC interacting with the cannabinoid receptors in the hypothalamus — a brain region which governs many basic physiological functions like thirst, hunger, sleep, mood, and sex drive.
A recent study with mice found that marijuana may actually flip a brain circuit that is normally responsible for suppressing appetites, triggering high people to pig out on snacks instead.
8. Your heart rate increases within minutes
A normal heart rate is 70 to 80 beats per minute, but after smoking marijuana, the heart rate increases by about 20 to 50 beats per minute. If marijuana is mixed with other drugs, the heart rate can actually double.
This speeding up of the heart usually only lasts for a short time and dies down after about 20 minutes.
You might also like: Medical Marijuana Could Help You Reduce the Frequency of Your Migraines