What is happening within the brain when you are high?
January 12, 2014 4:04 PM   Subscribe

I am an irregular user of cannabis and complete novice really in such matters but recently when under the influence I felt the need to try and record the experience by writing an email to myself. The following day I awoke to discover a 9 page long list of words (people, places, nouns) and I was both surprised and confused by its content. I am interested in what is taking place within the brain on a molecular basis, and if this list is somehow a reflection of my subconscious or to do with an effect cannabis has on the part of the brain that stores memories?
posted by numberstation to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot speak to your specific incident but Memoirs of an Addicted Brain by Marc Lewis goes into molecular detail about how a variety of drugs work on the brain. You may find it interesting.
posted by sacrifix at 5:11 PM on January 12, 2014

No knowledge about this myself, but I noticed there's a MOOC on coursera.org right now from Cal Tech on Drugs and the Brain. (You can sign up free just to watch the lectures without penalty.)
posted by bertran at 5:24 PM on January 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Basically you have receptors in you brain that are expecting certain shaped chemicals. When you hit these receptors with shapes they aren't expecting things go weird.

If you imagine your brain as a puzzle you fill in piece until things make sense.

When high you are dumping a bunch of puzzles together and seeing what fits.

If you look up the complexity of a caffeine molecule vs. THC vs. LSD it's easy to see why they have different effects.

This is also why serotonin uptake inhibitors work differently for different folk. It was explained to me as a lock and key. Different keys all fit the lock, only some turn it over.

Things get really weird for each brain. For instance, synthetic painkillers don't do dick for me. I can take oxycodone and it does nothing. I take vicodine and I get ill. Neither kill pain for me. I lack those receptors. (Most people have them.)

Anyway, at the end of the day you are altering your brain chemistry. This changes how your brain works and processes memories and stimulus.

I've had similar experiences to yours. I decide I am gong to document the experience and I end up spending hours writing one paragraph.

If you are really curious you need to talk to a neuro-chemist.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:26 PM on January 12, 2014

I'm not sure what's going on with your brain, but if you aren't having such an easy time remembering your train of thought on paper in post-dissociative mind states, then maybe it's time to transfer to another medium such as voice recording. This is a good voice recorder that you could use.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:29 PM on January 12, 2014

I've never tried to write while under the influence of marijuana (that I can recall) but I know I have a hard time reading when I'm stoned. I have a tendency to be easily distractable and my mind is constantly shooting off in different directions inspired by whatever it is that I'm reading. I can't really speak to the neuropharmacology of THC but my understanding is that its effects on brain function and cognition are pretty complex and difficult to assign to single specific causes.

I imagine that your weird list is a result of your being exceptionally prone to distraction and free-association while under the influence, the fact that ideas which would ordinarily seem mundane or nonsensical often feel extremely profound when one is stoned, and also the fact that you're probably a bit stupider when you're stoned than when you're not.

Basically, you probably thought you were writing some kind of really deep and significant steam-of-consciousness poetry or something, which in the cold light of sobriety turned out to be total rubbish. Marijuana often makes people feel more creative, but it doesn't necessarily make the creations any better – just the opposite, as often as not.
posted by Scientist at 7:11 PM on January 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Basically you have receptors in you brain that are expecting certain shaped chemicals. When you hit these receptors with shapes they aren't expecting things go weird."

This is only half true. In reality, you have receptors in your brain designed specifically to receive the small molecules that produce the effects that cannabis has. They are called cannabinoid receptors and you can read about them here. In a nutshell, when you activate them it says off a cascade of intracellular events that result in you feeling high. I don't think it has to do with your subconscious per se, but more it is just a chemical and electrical soup that is being produced in your brain. If you think of your subconscious as part of this chemical and electrical soup (which in reality that it is what it is) then on that level, yes, it has to do with it.

Here is a more user friendly explanation.
posted by corn_bread at 5:15 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

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