All mammals, including humans, incorporate ontologically the old reptilian brain (the midbrain), which is responsible for most of our primitive emotions and is important to our survival. When the midbrain is over-stimulated it takes over some of the control, making humans inclined to act a lot more like reptiles and a bit less like people.
The term “reptilian” refers to the primitive, instinctive brain function. These functions are shared by all reptiles and mammals, including humans, and provide the most powerful and oldest of our brain’s coping mechanisms, what is often described as the “fight or flight” response. The reptilian brain sees things in black and white and it causes us to act first and think later. While this can often cause trouble, without our reptilian brain functions we might not be alive.
It is suggested that in humans the reptilian brain is important in the expression of obsessive-compulsive behavior; personal day-to-day rituals, superstitious acts; slavish conformance to old ways of doing things; ceremonial re-enactments, as well as responding to partial representations (coloration, strangeness, etc.), whether alive or inanimate, and all manner of deception.
Seventy percent of the human brain is there to slow down or modulate the other 30 percent. This modulation is mediated by a complex system of neurochemical and electrical on-off switches. Too many neural signals going too fast almost certainly play an important role in the causes of bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, ADD/ADHD, seizure disorder, migraines, explosive anger disorder and irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few.
Our thinking can be hampered if too many neural signals, going too fast, get through to the brain. This may overwhelm the brain and make it difficult to concentrate or focus on any one idea or project. So, built into the brain we have mechanisms to dial back and slow the speed of neurotransmission.
One of these mechanisms uses the endocannabinoid system (ECS) which is found in all human bodies. The ECS is located on the central and peripheral nervous systems and regulates essential brain/body functions like pain, mood, digestion, sleep and appetite. Because humans also obtain cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, using cannabis can restrain the reptilian brain in treating neurological conditions.
The endocannabinoid system is critical for neuromodulation and homeostasis. It works by a mechanism called retrograde inhibition. According to UCI Professor Danielle Piomelli, Ph.D., those suffering from ADD are likely to have an endocannabinoid deficiency.
Nerves communicate with each other by sending signals across synapses between them going only in one direction. The endocannabinoid system represents a mechanism by which neurons go in both directions, actually communicating backwards across synapses to modulate/decrease their inputs. This is important because when the body is stressed from too many signals, as in seizures, it releases dopamine to calm things down. If there is a cannabinoid deficiency, the normal release is slowed down because the release of dopamine depolarizes the nerve, making it harder to stimulate. Increased free dopamine released by cannabinoids, because of this retrograde inhibition, stops the brain from being inundated by both internal and external stimuli.
Cannabinoid receptors are co-localized with dopamine receptors, suggesting that cannabinoids affect the release of dopamine. This probably influences neurons to depolarize, thereby making it harder to stimulate them. With fewer inputs to the higher centers of thinking and with the neural input being slower, it makes it that much easier for the patient to focus and process these thoughts. Additionally, when someone has a seizure disorder, the slowing down of the process by the increased availability of dopamine made possible by cannabinoids introduced to the body from the cannabis plant, reduces both the intensity and frequency of seizures.
The brain is not fully developed at birth. We finish our neuronal wiring out in the world. If brains didn’t continue development outside the womb, a baby’s head wouldn’t fit through the birth canal. Brain development is 90 percent complete by age three but continues through the mid 20s.
So, although we know cannabis can alleviate conditions caused by the reptilian brain, does this have an adverse impact? Some suggest that the consumption of cannabis before the brain is fully developed may adversely affect that development. At present there is no research or epidemiological evidence to support that speculation.
After all, cannabinoids are present in our bodies from birth, and cannabinoids, whether endogenous (produced in our bodies) or exogenous (introduced into our bodies) work by either stimulating or blocking the CB and/or CB2 receptor sites throughout the body.