Why weed makes you laugh, according to science
I reach for cannabis mainly to soothe my anxiety, especially in these fraught times. But some of its other, non-chill effects вЂ” such as the giggles вЂ” also enhance my experience. If you consume weed, you likely know the feeling: constantly teetering on the brink of laughter, even if nothing remotely funny is happening. When I do notice something the slightest bit funny, I burst into hysterics, especially if IвЂ™m smoking with a friend. As a science-minded human who loves nerding out over cannabisвЂ™s effects on the brain, I asked experts to help me break down why weed makes you laugh.
LetвЂ™s start with what laugher truly is. вЂњLaughing is really a reflex,вЂќ like coughing or sneezing, says Timothy Fong, a professor of psychiatry who also helps oversee the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative. вЂњItвЂ™s something that can be triggered spontaneously, by things we see and feel.вЂќ
When you use cannabis, you enter an altered state in which you perceive time, color, and pretty much everything differently. вЂњThat altered state makes the reflex [to laugh] more likely to be triggered,вЂќ Fong tells me, not unlike how a cold makes your coughing reflex more sensitive. Cannabis does this partly by boosting levels of chemicals in your body that trigger your laugh reflex, especially dopamine, Fong says. As a result, вЂњthings that arenвЂ™t funny become funny.вЂќ
He notes that cannabis also lowers the inhibition of your laugh reflex вЂ” say, in situations that your sober mind would deem giggling inappropriate вЂ” by acting on the frontal lobe, responsible for inhibiting behavior. Plus, the binding of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound in weed that makes you high, to the endocannabinoid receptors located throughout your body spurs the release of dopamine and serotonin, вЂњthe happy neurotransmitters,вЂќ which can also lower impulse control, says Lewis Nelson, chair of the department of emergency medicine and chief of the division of medical toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
Also, laughter really is contagious, Fong says, even when youвЂ™re sober, which probably explains why the giggles tend to hit me hardest when I use cannabis with a friend. Throw a substance that messes with your laugh reflex into the mix, and вЂњeverything becomes a lot funnier.вЂќ
In general, the more potent the product вЂ” that is, the more THC it contains вЂ” the more likely itвЂ™ll cause the giggles, Fong says. More THC results in more binding to your endocannabinoid receptors, more neurochemicals being expressed, and вЂњjust more noise, like turning your stereo up louder,вЂќ he explains. вЂњYouвЂ™re going to get more intense responses.вЂќ
You mightвЂ™ve come across lists of вЂњtop giggly strains,вЂќ like Laughing Buddha or Mango Kush, on cannabis websites. But the lack of clear national regulations around strains means there isnвЂ™t a whole lot of consistency in the amount of THC, terpenes, and other compounds in plants of a given strain, Fong notes (which has raised questions about the scientific basis of strains as a means of categorizing weed, VICE reports). The levels of these compounds in Laughing Buddha bought in one state might differ from Laughing Buddha bought in another state
WhatвЂ™s more, everyone experiences cannabis differently, which can, in turn, depend on factors like how they consume it, or whether theyвЂ™re doing so on a full or empty stomach. In other words, one personвЂ™s description of a strain may not hold true for everyone, and if youвЂ™re seeking out a strain with the express purpose of getting the giggles, itвЂ™ll be somewhat of a crapshoot.
The take-home message is that cannabis makes your laugh reflex easier to trigger, and as Fong emphasizes, itвЂ™s not a sign that youвЂ™re becoming psychotic. The next time I laugh my ass off while watching a nature documentary after taking an edible, IвЂ™ll know why.
This article was originally published on July 7, 2020I reach for cannabis mainly to soothe my anxiety, especially in these fraught times. But some of its other, non-chill effects вЂ” such as the giggles вЂ” also enhance my experience. If you consume weed, you likely know the feeling: constantly teeteringвЂ¦
Why Cannabis Makes You Laugh & Top Strains for a Giggle Fit
The mechanisms behind laughter are still mostly a mystery to scientists and doctors. But we know from experience and a long history of cannabis users that one of the best and fastest ways to induce laughter is by using cannabis! Could this funny “side-effect” of cannabis be one of its best therapeutic properties?
Cannabis is famed for causing uncontrollable laughter or “fits of the giggles” in users. In fact, even the notorious 1936 film Reefer Madness stated that the first sign of cannabis intoxication was “sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter”. Dozens of research papers have noted this effect, but the reasons for it remain unclear.
As a whole, the study of laughter has been left to psychologists rather than biologists. The physiology of laughter is more or less a mystery, and it is most often explained in psychological terms. While doctors and scientist observe a positive physiological response to laughter (such as physical healing), the actual biological or neurological mechanisms behind laughter itself are pretty much unknown.
In any case, laughter is often seen as a “side-effect” of cannabis, albeit an enjoyable one. It’s often overlooked as a therapeutic quality, although we all agree that “laughter is the best medicine”, right? Why shouldn’t the medical world of cannabis embrace this “side-effect” as a therapeutic quality, one that is just as vital to healing as any other biomedical process?
Why the study of laughter is important
Many intoxicating substances can elicit mood changes in users, such as alcohol, various hallucinogens and opiates. The “positive” changes in mood often include feelings of profound joy, pleasure and exhilaration—and an increased propensity for laughter. Historically, many of the dozens of papers that note the phenomenon have simply mentioned its existence without exploring the mechanisms at work too closely.
However, now that our approach to understanding psychological processes has matured somewhat, researchers are beginning to pay closer attention to the processes at work when humans use psychoactive drugs. A matter of particular interest is in the potential for psychoactive drugs to improve mood, and this is especially pertinent in the study and treatment of depression and other psychological or emotional disturbances.
A more complete understanding of how human consciousness works will ultimately allow us to treat mood disorders at the source. This is in comparison to the current biomedical paradigm, which makeshifts treatments for signs and symptoms but doesn’t address the underlying cause.
One example of this new approach is the recent publicity surrounding depression and its possible basis in immune system inflammation. Initial studies are finding that treating the underlying cause—the inflammation—causes the symptoms of depression to reduce or even disappear. Laughter may also be useful in treating individuals with physical illness or injury, as is has been shown to reduce subjective feelings of stress and pain.
Laughter is an evolutionary component of human beings. It is so fundamental to human expression that people do it completely unconsciously (not on purpose). It is spontaneous like breathing, thinking or going to the toilet. It’s safe to say that studying human laughter can shed light on all kinds of neurological and psychological processes, and this lends itself to medicine in the way of understanding emotional ailments like depression or anxiety.
How does laughter naturally occur in humans?
The study of laughter in humans is known as gelotology, from the Greek word gelos, meaning laughter. It is widely understood that laughter occurs in response to internal or external stimuli, such as tickling, jokes, or humorous thoughts.
Laughter is a fundamental aspect of human social interaction (as well as that of our closer primate cousins), and can act as positive or negative feedback in social situations. For example, a group of people laughing at a joke made by one of its members acts as positive feedback, while laughing in ridicule at a social error made by a group member acts as negative feedback.
The area of the brain that controls the laughter response in humans is believed to be the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which lies at the base of the prefrontal cortex and is known for producing endorphins. Endorphins are endogenous morphine-like substances produced by the brain. These chemicals evoke feelings of euphoria and inhibit pain. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is part of the “limbic brain”, which is considered to be at the core of all human emotional response. It has been demonstrated that laughter triggers endorphin release, which in turn increases subjective well-being as well as resistance to pain.
Other parts of the limbic system, namely the amygdala, thalamus, hypothalamus and hippocampus, are also believed to be involved in the laughter response. The parts of the limbic system (also known as the reptilian brain) that are involved with laughter are believed to control the raw emotional response to a humorous stimulus.
The ventromedial prefrontal cortex mediates the higher-consciousness aspects of the laughter response, such as suppression of laughter if the social setting is inappropriate. The hypothalamus particularly is implicated in the expression of loud, uncontrollable laughter, such as that often seen in cannabis users.Cannabis is one of the only known medicines to induce laughter. It could be an avenue through which to study the mysterious phenomenon of laughter. ]]>