How Cannabis Works in Our Body

Learning how cannabis works in the body such as how and where the compounds of cannabis metabolized, absorbed, excreted, and stored in our bodies because it lays the foundation to understanding how cannabis works medicinally. One thing I can’t stress enough is the fact that as of now, there’s only limited information known about how the human body acts consequently to cannabis (referred to as pharmacokinetics of cannabis) and how cannabis acts consequently on the human body (referred to as pharmacodynamics). 

The cannabis plant produces over 700 chemical compounds. The most common compound known is THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is just a small component within an extraordinary environment produced within the cannabis plant and makes up dozens of medicinal active substances. Did you know that cannabis is not solely comprised of THC? Different varieties of cannabis produce different portions of active ingredients. The differing Interactions and ratios among the chemicals produce end up creating different medicinal effects. Variation among potency and constituency along with the complex chemical interactions combined with the way the body metabolizes these cannabis compounds makes medicinal cannabis dosing a very difficult task. 

Absorption of Cannabis in The Human Body 

Different absorption methods of cannabis determine how quickly or slowly the effects of cannabis will take effect in the human body. Methods in which cannabis can be absorbed are as follows: smoking, vaping, sublingually, orally, and topically.  

When a user smokes cannabis, THC in cannabis reaches its maximum concentrations in the blood within six to seven minutes of smoking it. THC can actually be detected within a few seconds of inhaling it. How efficiently cannabis works (how efficiently a user absorbs THC via smoking or vaping) likely seems to depend on how the user learned to smoke or vape and experience. More experienced users are twice as likely to absorb THC more efficiently than inexperienced and occasional users of cannabis. How efficiently cannabis works depends on the duration and the size of the inhalation, as well as how long the inhalation is held. Holding an inhalation of cannabis only minimally increases its THC absorption.  

Sublingual/Oral Absorption 

The sublingual/oral absorption method (meaning absorption under the tongue) or oromucosal (meaning on the tissues of the tongue) is less efficient than inhaling. The sublingual method in some cases can occur anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes after applying. It takes four hours for THC and slightly long for CBD to reach their highest peaks within the blood.  

There’s an inconsistency when it comes to the sublingual/oral absorption method. Studies have shown that the maximum concentration of THC in the blood in most cases can be reached within two hours, while in other cases, it took up to seven hours.  

When THC is ingested, stomach acids destroy some of the THC. Before THC becomes able to have active effects, the liver absorbs a large portion of it as well (called the first-pass effect). 

Topical Absorption 

Topical absorption of THC is the least efficient and more difficult, however, it’s capable through the process of combining THC with a fatty acid and propylene glycol. Topical forms of THC can treat inflammatory disorders like osteoarthritis and skin conditions such as psoriasis.  

Metabolism of Cannabis 

Once THC has been introduced into the body, 90 percent of THC gets confined to proteins in the blood. Blood moves nutrients, oxygen, and water to cells throughout the body as well as THC which ends up distributing THC to tissues containing large amounts of blood vessels which includes the heart, fat cells, liver, etc. Approximately one percent of THC gets delivered to the brain.  

Particular organs within the human body break down THC into other molecules (referred to as metabolites). This specific metabolism happens mainly in the liver, as well as within the heart and lungs. After the liver breaks down THC, the resulting primary metabolite is 11-hydroxy-THC which is two times more psychoactive and last twice as long as THC. 11-hydroxy-THC ends up undergoing further metabolic changes and eventually becomes an inert metabolite prior to being eliminated from the body. 

Cannabidiol, once metabolized by the liver is converted into 7-hydroxy-CBD. At this time, there is very little known about its uses, effects, and modes of action. 

Elimination of Cannabis 

Once THC has broken down into metabolites, it generally takes 36 hours for the body to excrete them after ingestion. So, in other words-THC and its psychoactive metabolites are eliminated from the bloodstream. On the other hand, the non-psychoactive metabolites of THC can remain in the human body for weeks in frequent cannabis users. Once these metabolites are excreted, approximately 30 percent of excretion comes from urination and the remaining 70 percent is excreted via feces. oral doses excreted are unchanged and are five percent. 

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