Anatomy of Getting High: Effects of Cannabis on the Body [Infographic]

Remember the This Is Your Brain on Drugs PSA that showed an egg frying in a pan with a voice saying, “This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” This anti-drug campaign relied on scare tactics, rather than education to help us understand what actually happens to our brains and other parts of our bodies when we consume various drugs, including cannabis. 

So, is cannabis bad for your brain? Science is mixed on the answer to that. Some studies have shown that long-term use can impair the brain, depending on how long a person has used it. Other studies show no conclusive evidence of the negative longterm effects. 

We explore the effects of cannabis on the brain and the rest of the body in our infographic, “The Anatomy of Getting High.” Learn how cannabis affects the body, from the mouth and lungs, as it enters the body and its chemicals travel through the major systems of your body, to your muscles and joints. Armed with this information, you can have a safer and more enjoyable experience when you use cannabis.


Cannabinoid receptors in the brain activate through anandamide, a neurotransmitter naturally produced by the body when the brain wants to produce a feeling of happiness or euphoria. The main intoxicating ingredient in cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has a very similar molecular structure to anandamide. 

The chemical makeup and structure of THC allows it to fit in the traditional binding locations of anandamide: the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is present throughout the entire body – on immune cells in our bloodstream, on the entire axis of the spinal cord, and in virtually every cell in our brain. Just like we have a nervous system, cardiovascular system, our endocannabinoid system acts like a communication bridge between the body and brain, and endocannabinoids like anandamide are the messengers that keep it running.

The NCBI found evidence to show that cannabis influences the activity of the endocannabinoid system, which holds therapeutic promise for a wide range of diseases and pathological conditions, including mood and anxiety disorders.

The whites of our eyes (the sclera) contain many small blood vessels, which can become enlarged when you consume cannabis. Vasodilation in turn causes the blood vessels to expand and become more noticeable, giving the eyes a reddish, bloodshot appearance.

Submandibular glands in our mouths produce saliva and create enzymes that break down starches. They also have cannabinoid receptors; when activated, they create less saliva and fewer enzymes, creating the “cottonmouth” feeling some people experience after consuming cannabis.

Cannabinoids control the response of the immune system and help suppress inflammatory responses. CB2 receptors found in tissues are responsible for inhibiting inflammation, which is why cannabis provides relief for pain caused by joint swelling and muscle fatigue (myositis).

Though there are several ways to take cannabis for pain. You will likely need to experiment to find the method of consumption that works the best for you. Cannabis can be smoked, vaped, dabbed, consumed through edibles, tinctures, pills, or concentrates. Additionally, cannabis can be applied topically (on your skin) as a salve.

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