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Marijuana and the Human Brain

THC: Dose and effect

The effects of marijuana share certain properties with all the other psychoactive drugs - stimulants, sedatives, tranquilizers and hallucinogens. Scientists are just now figuring out how marijuana users manipulate dosage and tolerance to manage those effects.

Small doses of THC provide stimulation, followed by sedation. Large doses of THC produce a mild hallucinogenic effect, followed by sedation and/or sleep. The effects of mild "hypnogogic" states produced by THC are often undetected, contributing to mood variations from gregariousness to introspection.

The effects of marijuana can be sorted into four categories. First, there are modest physical effects, such as a slight change in heart rate or blood pressure and changes in body temperature. Tolerance develops to these effects with familiarity and/or regular use.

Tolerance next develops to the depressant effects of marijuana, particularly to its effects on motor coordination. However, tolerance to these effects depends on the quality of the marijuana consumed as well as the frequency of use. THC is one of several cannabinoids in marijuana. While it is the only cannabinoid to produce the psychoactive or stimulative effects, another cannabinoid, named cannabinol (CBN), produces only the depressant effects. CBN is generally present in low-potency marijuana, or very old marijuana in which the THC has decayed; it accounts for the generally undesirable effects of bad pot. While cannabinol gets someone "stoned," THC gets them "high."

After a while, tolerance develops to even the stimulative effects of marijuana. Experienced users learn that there is an outer limit to how high they can get. Paradoxically, this limit can only be exceeded by lower consumption.

Patients who require marijuana for medical purposes generally discover what dose provides steady maintenance of therapeutic benefits and tolerance to the side effects, both depressant and stimulative.

Read next part Marijuana tolerance: equilibrium, not addiction

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