Our brains are a delicate system of neurochemicals. Those chemicals balance with whatever we introduce into our systems. The balance of those factors can determine our sense of wellness, state of mind, and ability to function physically.
One important factor in all of that is a neurotransmitter called serotonin. People think of serotonin as the “happiness chemical,” although it’s much more than that. It also has a unique relationship with THC.
The relationship between THC and serotonin is what makes cannabis so interesting. We’re going to take a look at the combination these two chemicals, what it does in the human brain, and why it’s important to understand.
We hope the ideas below can give you a better sense of how cannabis can make you feel a little better if you use it intelligently. We’ll explore the basic ideas of serotonin and THC before we look at how they’re related.
Let’s get started.
Neurotransmitters are important in communication between different parts of our bodies. The nerve cells in our bodies send messages to and from our brains and allow us to function in extremely complex ways.
Most of the time, we’re not even remotely aware of the things our bodies are doing to maintain themselves. You’re not consciously telling your stomach to digest food, for example, but your brain certainly is.
At the root of those processes are neurons that run through the entirety of the body. The nervous system is the information highway of your being and neurons serve as links in the chain of messages your brain uses to help you function.
The messages that neurons send and receive are carried by neurotransmitters.
There are roughly fifty known neurotransmitters in our bodies. Each of them prompts a different chain reaction when they’re expressed. It isn’t as if serotonin just causes relaxation or happiness.
Instead, serotonin leads the nervous system to produce more of a specific hormone that causes the experience of happiness. Serotonin also helps with sleep, digestion, bone health, and more.
Difficulties with Serotonin
Many people experience issues with serotonin and the corresponding health issues that come as a result.
Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical within the body. In a healthy person, serotonin levels should be normal and sustain themselves based on a healthy diet and regular activity.
Naturally, everyone is different and has different resting levels of serotonin. So, one person who exercises and eats healthy might have less serotonin than someone who doesn’t take care of themself very well.
The production of serotonin is based on a couple of factors. One of those is the presence of an essential amino acid called tryptophan. Essential amino acids are those that our bodies don’t produce naturally and are required through our diets.
We’re responsible for getting enough amino acids into our diets. If we don’t, we can’t produce enough serotonin. When our serotonin is low, a number of things can go wrong.
The most notable and well-known issue that comes from low serotonin is depression. It’s important to note that serotonin issues also contribute to most other mental health disorders.
Low serotonin also leads to many other bodily issues. These factors don’t necessarily cause depression or mental illness, although the effects of low serotonin can start a chain reaction that does produce depression.
Making Sense of THC
THC, also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most prominent psychoactive piece of the cannabis plant.
THC is one of the hundreds of cannabinoids present in any given strain of cannabis. It’s the cannabinoids and terpenes that give different strains their flavor, mental effect, look, and general variety.
THC and CBD are the best-known cannabinoids because they’re the two most prominent in cannabis. THC operates in a way that produces mental euphoria, happiness, focus, clarity, and many other effects. The strength and presence of those effects depend on the strain, the person, and the method of use.
CBD is known for providing relaxation, pain relief, anxiety relief, and more. Both of these cannabinoids are regularly extracted and used as concentrates. These concentrates provide a much stronger effect than is found in the traditional plant.
That said, concentrating a single cannabinoid and stripping it of the other cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis might take away some of the potential benefits.
How Cannabinoids Interact with The Body
Cannabinoids engage with something called the endocannabinoid system. This system strings through our body and plays a big role in the areas of mood, memory, appetite, and pain.
You might recognize that those areas are the specific ones that cannabis is known to have an effect on. The endocannabinoid system is known to function in a similar way to the rest of the nervous system.
That means that neurons communicate different messages based on the stimulus coming in and the hormones present. The way that neurotransmitters are expressed is through little receptors in the neurons.
There are sending receptors and receiving receptors. In the case of the endocannabinoid system, these are called CB1 and CB2.
CB1 and CB2
These two receptors are integral to the way that the endocannabinoid system interacts with cannabis.
CB1 receptors are known to express themselves primarily throughout our central nervous systems and the brain. CB2 receptors express themselves through anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body. CB2 is also associated with a number of other physical effects that don’t deal so much with the mind.
THC is known to engage primarily with CB1 receptors. This is why the experience of highness and euphoria are caused by THC. When you consume THC products, that cannabinoid enters your bloodstream finds its way to the CB1 receptors throughout your endocannabinoid system.
As they make their way, most of those cannabinoids engage somewhere in or around the brain. CBD, on the other hand, binds to CB2 receptors.
That’s why CBD products are so associated with pain relief, relaxation, and physical recovery. The other cannabinoids present in cannabis products aren’t as heavily studied, and it’s thought that they’re not as important to the effects of cannabis.
The Relationship Between THC and Serotonin
So, we know that our mood is heavily affected by the neurotransmitter serotonin. We also know that THC enters our body and interacts with CB1 receptors that are present in our brains.
It’s important to note that neurons are complex little links in our chain. They’re home to a number of receptors and are able to produce and express numerous neurotransmitters. The same neurons that have CB1 receptors have serotonin receptors.
One of the interesting things about things like cannabinoids in the system is that the use of some receptors has an impact on others. The difficult thing is understanding that complex process.
There may be a few people who understand the dynamics of neurotransmitters very intimately, but an analogy will work just fine for our purposes.
Think of a single neuron and its various chemicals as a drum corps marching band.
These bands typically play in the middle of stadiums, marching in complex patterns that always seem to weave together in confusing ways. There might be three lines of trumpeters walking in swirling circles, while eighteen tuba players weave in between them and nobody ever brushes shoulders with anyone else.
Think of these marchers as neurotransmitters moving in and out of the different receptors.
It’s a delicate system and it works in ways that the band only understands. Let’s imagine you were watching a drum corps do their performance from above. You reach down and pick up one row of trumpeters and replace them with another row of people playing different instruments.
This new group of players is like the THC you introduce to the system. They can play the same songs as the previous group, but they might play a lot differently.
Your perception can be thought of as the audience in this example. The introduction of new players might be a welcomed improvement, or it could make the performance terrible.
In some cases, drugs like THC make a person feel extremely beautiful, almost religious experiences. In other cases, it sends them into a very painful spiral that wouldn’t be possible without the addition of new neurotransmitters.
We Don’t Know The Exact Reasons
The unfortunate thing is that there isn’t a perfect explanation as to why THC produces serotonin in people.
We know that it does happen, though, and long-term use of cannabis might actually even out the levels of serotonin in a way that helps them improve health issues. Issues with sleep, depression, digestion, and more might all be benefited, even cured in some cases through the use of THC.
One theory, though, is that THC stifles neurochemicals that inhibit the production of serotonin. A normally-functioning nervous system has checks and balances that keep all of its transmitters present in healthy amounts.
The presence of some transmitters might reduce the ability of other transmitters to express themselves. We can imagine that if some people have too much or too little serotonin, they can also have too much of the transmitter that inhibits serotonin.
That would lead to a shortage of serotonin expressed throughout the person’s body. There’s a good chance that when THC binds to CB1, it effectively blocks up the chemical that keeps serotonin from expressing itself.
The result is the expression of a lot more serotonin, and a lot more happy feelings.
If we use our marching band example, it’s like the tuba players are the chemical that inhibits serotonin. The trumpets are serotonin.
Let’s say you can’t hear the trumpets over the loud tubas. When we swap out the tuba line for the new members of the band, the trumpets are able to ring out loud and clear.
It’s not that the new members (THC) are trumpet players (serotonin), it’s just that they keep the tubas (serotonin inhibitors) from playing over the trumpets.
Understanding The Lived Experience
When it comes to using THC, the experience of serotonin and numerous other neurotransmitters is evident. Almost immediately after smoking cannabis, a person feels the effects of the process coming on.
Having a little background knowledge about how your body is producing feelings of “highness” or relaxation can be helpful to you. This is especially true if you’re trying to treat an illness or fine-tune the experiences you’re having with cannabis or cannabis derivatives like Delta-8.
It might help to learn more about the processes involved in the other medicines you’re using and how they interact with your neurons. If you want to learn more about cannabis derivatives like delta-8, you can get more information from 3chi.com
Does THC Cure Depression?
The unfortunate thing about the ideas above is that they don’t really suggest that THC cures anything or makes you happy.
Sure, serotonin is produced in greater measure when a person uses THC. That said, there’s a huge network of chemicals, personal habits, and more that lead to a person’s state of mind.
Additionally, you could be booming with serotonin and still be perfectly sad, depending on who you are. The effects of THC on the brain and body follow some patterns, but they’re ultimately dependent on the person using the drug itself.
If your serotonin levels are an issue, though, cannabis or THC products might be an excellent way to get them back into balance. There are different ways to approach using cannabis in this way. It’s important that you discuss your options with a medical professional.
Everyone responds differently as well, so there’s shame in deciding that cannabis or derivatives aren’t for you.
Want to Learn More about THC and The Brain?
Hopefully, our look at THC and serotonin was useful to you. There’s a lot more to learn about how THC can help us improve our state of mind and heal the body, though, and we’re here to help.
Explore our site for more insight into cannabis, THC, the brain, and a whole lot more.