Routes Of Exposure

How does marijuana affect the body? To answer this question, we must ascertain how THC gains access to the body (the route of exposure). Routes of exposure may be as important as dose when considering implications to human health, since they strongly influence the body's response to marijuana.

The major routes through which marijuana may enter the body are inhalation and ingestion. The greatest effect with the most rapid response is produced when THC is inhaled. This is because smoking bypasses the digestive process and travels directly to the central nervous system (the brain) by means of the bloodstream. Because of this fast-acting and direct route to the nervous system, studies suggest that high doses of inhaled drugs can be more harmful and more addicting over time. In addition, a marijuana user controls the amount of drug entering the body by controlling the portion of the marijuana cigarette smoked. In this way, the cigarette can be considered a drug delivery device.

The body's systems respond more slowly after marijuana is eaten. People who ingest marijuana, which may be cooked and incorporated into a meal, experience a slower onset of effects because the drug has to first go through the digestive process before it reaches the bloodstream and is carried to the central nervous system. The stomach absorbs marijuana unevenly after it is eaten owing to the fat-soluble properties of THC. Regardless of whether THC is inhaled or ingested, heat is required to convert marijuana to its psychoactive properties because of its fat solubility. Thus, simply eating a raw cannabis plant is not likely to produce a high.

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