Have you ever wondered why cannabis is like a dreamy cruise through the cosmos for some, while for others, it’s more like riding a rollercoaster blindfolded? Or why people report drastically different effects, even after hitting the same joint? When it comes to Mary Jane, predictability is about as elusive as a clear plot in a David Lynch film. Cannabis truly does affect each of us differently, and for reasons you may not expect.
Of course, set and setting play a role, as do tolerance and method of consumption. Your weight and body mass index also impact how you experience the herb. But the biggest factor in how cannabis affects you – whether you enjoy the vibe or have a paranoid freak-out – may actually be genetics and biochemistry.
None of us would feel anything from pot if we didn’t have cannabinoid receptors. But while we all have them, it is our genes that determine the quantity. The more receptors you have, the more intense your high will be, while fewer receptors can lead to milder effects. So, that one friend that you wrote off as a normie because they say they “just don’t get high” off of weed probably isn’t as well-endowed in the cannabis receptor department. Don’t blame them; blame their parents.
Recent studies have shown that some people may have a genetic mutation that makes them more prone to feeling anxious and paranoid after lighting up, and not just with sativas. Having fewer endocannabinoids in your body’s own internal endocannabinoid system can also make people more paranoid.
On the other end of that spectrum, about 20 percent of people possess a genetic mutation that increases their endogenous levels of endocannabinoids, making them literally naturally high off their own supply. Those extra endocannabinoids also tend to create less anxiety and make this lucky bunch less likely to experience withdrawal symptoms.
Meanwhile, some people are biologically just more proficient at ingesting cannabis. For us to feel its effects, cannabis must enter the bloodstream. If the method of consumption is vaping or smoking, then factors such as lung capacity, breath duration, and even heart rate can determine how much cannabis enters your bloodstream. But that’s not all. Even gender dictates how we respond to cannabis. Women are more sensitive to weed, particularly in the days leading up to their moon as their estrogen levels start to drop.
Another genetic factor is how efficiently your body metabolizes THC. Genetic variations can affect the functioning of the enzymes responsible for breaking down THC in the liver, meaning some people metabolize THC more quickly than others and may not feel the effects of cannabis as intensely or for as long as those who metabolize it more slowly. And if you’re someone who forgets what you were talking about every time you take a hit, well, you can blame your genes for that too.
Importantly, a recent study out of Western Ontario University found that THC can produce very positive effects when experienced in the front-most part of a region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. If, however, THC is experienced in the rear area of this region, it can produce “schizophrenia-related cognitive and emotional symptoms and patterns of neuron activity similar to those found in people with schizophrenia.” So, what determines which part of our brain experiences THC? You guessed it: genetics.
Ultimately, it’s a roll of the dice. Some of us simply have biochemistry that causes us to feel THC differently than others. So, if your one friend seems to have a bad trip every time they try to puff tough with you, maybe let them off the hook next time. And if you’re lucky enough to have genetics that allow you to enjoy the pleasures of cannabis, toke a little extra for the ones who can’t, and give a little shout-out to your parents for blessing you with genes that help make your life that much more fun and interesting.