Last updated on: 5/30/2008 | Author:

What Is — and What Causes — the Marijuana “High”?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Distribution of Cannabinoid Receptors (CB1) in the Brain. The Feeling of Being High Comes from THC Activating CB1 Receptors.
Source:, July 21, 2007

Drug Strategy and Controlled Substances Programme, a program of Health Canada, stated on a page titled “All About Marijuana” on its website (accessed Jan. 2, 2007)

“How does marijuana actually work? Why does it make you high?

This topic can be a bit complicated, with lots of detail about how the active ingredients of marijuana affect the inner-workings of the brain […] let’s just say that cannabis has what are called psychoactive chemicals, the main one being ‘tetrahydrocannabinol’ or THC for short.

When you smoke a joint, the THC goes into your lungs, then into your heart which pumps it into your bloodstream which then takes it directly to your brain. When you smoke marijuana, it only takes a few minutes for the THC to get to your brain, whereas if you eat it, it would take a little longer because it has to pass through your digestive system first.

Once it’s in your brain, the THC activates what are called ‘receptors,’ and gives you the feeling of being high. In short, marijuana changes the physical and chemical balance in your brain and this is what people refer to as a ‘high’.”

Jan. 2, 2007 - Drug Strategy and Controlled Substances Programme (Canada)

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stated in its online article “Marijuana” (accessed Dec. 29, 2006):

“The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). The membranes of certain nerve cells in the brain contain protein receptors that bind to THC. Once securely in place, THC kicks off a series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the high that users experience when they smoke marijuana. …

As THC enters the brain, it causes a user to feel euphoric — or ‘high’ — by acting in the brain’s reward system, areas of the brain that respond to stimuli such as food and drink as well as most drugs of abuse. THC activates the reward system in the same way that nearly all drugs of abuse do, by stimulating brain cells to release the chemical dopamine.”

Dec. 29, 2006 - US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

The Institute of Medicine published in its Mar. 1999 report titled “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base”:

“A characteristic feature of the marijuana ‘high’ is a distortion in the sense of time associated with deficits in short-term memory and learning. A marijuana smoker typically has a sense of enhance physical and emotional sensitivity, including a feeling of greater interpersonal closeness…

Delta-9-THC and Delta-8-THC are the only compounds in the marijuana plant that produce all the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

Because Delta-9-THC is much more abundant than Delta-8-THC, the psychoactivity of marijuana has been attributed largely to the effects of Delta-9-THC.” [Editor’s Note: When marijuana is metabolized in the liver, a new compound is formed. Called Delta-11-THC, it is more psychoactive than marijuana’s other cannabinoids.]

Mar. 1999 - "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base" Institute of Medicine

The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) at the University of Maryland stated in its website article titled “Marijuana” (accessed Apr. 20, 2010; last updated May 2, 2005):

“Many users describe two phases of the marijuana high: initial stimulation (giddiness and euphoria), followed by sedation and a pleasant tranquility.

Users also report altered perceptions of distance and time along with a heightened sensitivity to sights and sounds. Effects can vary from person to person and can differ with each use. While some users may experience lowered inhibitions, drowsiness, and contentment, others may feel great anxiety and paranoia. And depending upon the user and setting, the effects and categorization of marijuana can vary from a stimulant to a depressant to a hallucinogen. Any of these effects can begin within a few minutes after inhaling, and can last 2 to 3 hours after initial intoxication.”

May 2, 2005 - Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR)

Oakley Ray, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, and Charles Ksir, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Wyoming, stated in their 2004 textbook Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior:

“The subjective effects of smoking marijuana — the high — are quite difficult to study…

Almost all writers emphasize that a new user has to learn how to smoke marijuana. The first step involves deeply inhaling the smoke and holding it in the lungs for twenty to forty seconds. Then the user has to learn to identify and control the effects and, finally, to label the effects as pleasant. Because of this learning process, most first-time users do not achieve the euphoric ‘stoned’ or ‘high’ condition of the repeater.”

2004 - Oakley Ray, PhD Charles Ksir, PhD

Bill Zimmerman, PhD, et al., former President, Americans For Medical Rights (AMR), noted in his 1998 book Is Marijuana The Right Medicine For You?:

“Before we describe what you should expect the first time you use marijuana, you should know that many patients report that marijuana used for medical purposes does not make them high at all. Patients fighting nausea, for instance, often need to take only a few puffs to deal with their nausea, and a few puffs may not be enough to produce any mental effects.

The sensation of being high is quite subtle. Typically, it differs slightly from one person to the next and from one experience to the next. There is often a sense of amusement and well-being (euphoria). There is a feeling of relaxation and calm. … People who are high seem to enjoy art, as well as the simple appearance of things, more profoundly than at other times. When marijuana produces effects like these, and the user is accustomed to the effects, it can be quite pleasurable, which helps explain why millions of people use marijuana solely for recreational purposes.”

1998 - Bill Zimmerman, PhD

Eric Goode, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Stonybrook State University of New York, stated in his June 1970 book The Marijuana Smokers:

“A significant proportion of marijuana users did not become high the first time that they smoked the drug … In part, much of this may be attributed to improper and inefficient technique. However, even with the most careful instruction and technique, some fail to become intoxicated.”

June 1970 - Eric Goode, PhD

Terry Necco, a former freelance writer for Change the Climate, Inc., stated in his Sep. 1, 1998 Change the Climate, Inc. article “Marijuana and Sex: A Classic Combination”:

“Just as our bodies contain pleasure systems which reward us for sex; our brains contain neurocellular circuitry which can only be activated by substances with THC’s molecular structure. This makes the marijuana high a unique constellation of feelings, and there are only two sources for the substances which activate THC’s very own neuroreceptor. Our brain is one source: it generates a neurochemical very similar to THC, called anandamide. Translated, the word means bliss. The only other source for this bliss-producing substance is the cannabis plant.”

Sep. 1, 1998 - Terry Necco