Much of what we know about the ways different people function under the influence of cannabis comes from shared conversations about high experiences. Even with the Internet offering a crowd-sourced knowledge base to extrapolate from, it’s hard to know what to expect from first-time or new-strain cannabis ingestion without trying it for yourself. This is because cannabis affects everyone differently, and it’s common to think that your ability to function while high depends foremost on your tolerance or the strain you’re consuming.
While these variables have an undeniable influence on your high experience, there is a significant genetic component to the equation that’s becoming better understood as cannabis research progresses. Only in considering a combination of factors – like a plant’s cannabinoid content, a human’s psychological health and genetic makeup, for starters — can we begin to understand why two people might experience the same strain differently. Fortunately, science is evolving to provide us with an even better understanding of what causes both positive and negative effects of cannabis.
Consider first the number of different chemical compounds found in cannabis: scientists have isolated 85 different cannabinoids from the plant. There are different cannabinoid ratios found in each strain, and the way different cannabinoids interact with each other, in a process known as the entourage effect, alters their combined effects.
In 2010, the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology published a study that explored the combined effects of THC and CBD, just two of the chemical compounds found in cannabis. The study found that CBD has the ability to block the negative effects that can be induced by THC, like anxiety and paranoia. This means strains with a high THC – low CBD ratio are more likely to cause a user to experience negative effects.
Consider also the way individual bodies respond differently to other drugs, like alcohol or caffeine. It is equally important to consider the way individual bodies process different cannabis strains, or combinations of cannabinoids. In pointing towards the potential therapeutic role of CBD in the experiences of individuals with existing psychiatric disorders, the 2010 study highlights the way individual psychological differences can determine the way different strains impact different people.
In addition to plant genetics and human psychology, a new study exploring the relationship between cannabis use and human genetics indicates additional influencers of individualized cannabis experiences. According to the new research, a commonly occurring genetic variation affects the impact of THC on working memory performance, meaning individuals with the genetic variation experience cannabis differently than those without it.
While it might not be feasible for the average cannabis user to pursue genetic testing, it is worth wondering what we can learn from all these individualized differences: what might our different high experiences teach us about cannabis? Our bodies? The human mind?
Cannabis science has come a long way – but it has a long way to go if we are to fully understand why individuals can experience the same strain differently. Even so, studies exploring the correlation between genetics, cannabinoids and cognitive function might offer much needed clarity amidst an onslaught of digital strain reviews.