With cannabis moving from shadow intoxicant to legal substance in California, potential first-time users may be wondering: How does THC make you “high”? Here is an explanation from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

THC and other cannabinoid chemicals in marijuana are similar to chemicals that naturally occur in the body. These natural cannabinoids, such as “anandamide,” function as neurotransmitters because they send chemical messages between nerve cells throughout the nervous system. They affect brain areas that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory and time perception.

Because of this similarity, THC is able to attach to molecules called cannabinoid receptors on neurons in these brain areas and activate them, changing various mental and physical functions.

The neural communication network that uses these cannabinoid neurotransmitters, known as the endocannabinoid system, plays a critical role in the nervous system’s normal functioning.

THC is able to alter the functioning of the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex, brain areas that enable a person to form new memories and shift the focus of their attention.

It also stimulates neurons in the reward system to release the signaling chemical dopamine at levels higher than typically observed in response to natural stimuli. This flood of dopamine contributes to the pleasurable “high” that recreational marijuana users seek.

This article was first published at MercuryNews.com.