Pharmacological Effects

For more than 30 years, the discovery of the mechanism of THC's action had eluded the best researchers. The problem seems finally to have been resolved by the detection of specific can-nabinoid-binding sites (Receptors) in the brain. A further step in unraveling the mechanism of THC's action has been the cloning of the cannabinoid receptor.

The pharmacological effects of THC vary with the dose, the method of administration, the user's degree of experience with THC, the setting, and the user's vulnerability to the psychoactive effects of the drug. Most users seek to experience a ''high,'' or ''mellowing out.'' The high begins about 10 to 20 minutes after smoking and lasts about 2 hours. The psychological effects obtained during the high are often related to the setting in which the drug is taken.

Inhalation. THC is most commonly taken into the body by inhaling the smoke from marijuana ''joints.'' A joint of good quality contains about 500 milligrams of marijuana, which in turn contains between 5 and 15 milligrams of THC. Blood levels of THC rise almost as rapidly after inhaling smoke as they do after intravenous administration of THC. That the drug should be so rapidly absorbed is an indication of the efficiency of the lung as a trap for the drug. THC is quickly redistributed into other tissues so that blood levels decline over the course of 3 hours to negligible amounts. The usual symptoms of marijuana intoxication are almost completely gone by that time.

Ingestion. THC is absorbed slowly and unreliably from the gut after oral administration. Blood levels of the drug peak between 1 and 2 hours after ingestion. These peak concentrations are also considerably lower than those following smoking.

THC is easily soluble in fats. It is taken up and stored in the fatty tissues of the body and in the gray matter of the brain. This pattern of storage is one reason why THC remains so long in the body.

Withdrawal. THC does not produce a severe withdrawal syndrome. Heavy users, however, frequently report insomnia, nervousness, mild stomach upset, and achy muscles— particularly if they stop their use suddenly.

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