They say that laughter is the best medicine and this drug/medicine comes with its own side effects of laughter. Whether it’s going to classes high and then barely keeping it together, or smoking a blunt with a friend and laughing until your stomach hurts, weed has a propensity to make you laugh, often, for no apparent reason. On a related note, this particular characteristic of cannabis makes one wonder whether those uncles at laughter yoga ‘take a puff’ before they start laughing for no reason at all.
Experiences with weed can be highly subjective but stoners can unanimously agree that cannabis can turn any mundane movie into a full-fledged comedy movie. And can momentarily make you the ‘funny friend’, if your friends usually scoff at your jokes. On the whole, it’s safe to say that uncontrollable laughter is one of the stoner stereotypes that hold true.
Whether it’s people downing the traditional drink of Bhang during Holi and giggling throughout the day, or smoking a doob and uncontrollably laughing to a moderately funny joke, it seems weed triggers something in our body that induces laughter. But before we try to decipher why weed has the ability to make you laugh, let's take a quick look at how laughter works.
Why do we laugh? According to scientific theories
According to How Stuff Works, humans begin laughing when they're just 3 months old. That's before most humans can even start speaking! Laughter is also hypothesized to have an evolutionary function. The most discussed explanation of humor and laughter is the theory of incongruity. The theory proposes that humans laugh at the juxtaposition of incompatible concepts and when these concepts go against their expectations, they find that funny.
In other words, a joke becomes funny when we expect one outcome but get another. So, when a friend is telling us a joke, we usually anticipate what they are going to say. For example - a knock-knock joke. When you arrive at the part of ‘who’s there’, the other person’s answer gives us a clue to what the punchline might be. Supposing they said, ‘orange’, we will then try to predict their punchline based on ‘orange’ based on our logic and past experiences.
So, when the joke turns out to be something we never thought of, like ‘orange you cute’ we suddenly feel different emotions. Now, we're experiencing two sets of different emotions and thoughts. This incongruity or discrepancy between the premise and punchline is what we perceive as funny.
Punchlines on double-meanings and breaking social norms are often perceived as funny
We often find statements with double-meanings funny because they had never perceived that way before. We see them in a completely new light.
Researchers McGraw and Warren from Leeds University expand on this theory to say that some people also find it funny when the punchline is defying or satirizing social norms, McGraw, Warren, and their colleagues lent support to that notion through a 2010 study. But this depends on if you're comfortable with poking fun at that social norm. For example, if you're sensitive about jokes on religion, you might disapprove of a punchline that goes against religious norms. Therefore, it wouldn’t be funny for you. Additionally, sometimes, past serious misfortunes can seem laughable when you retrospect, for instance, events like accidentally breaking your phone or a fight with a close friend can seem absurd and funny as more time passes.
The role of laughter as a bonding experience
There's a reason why people say laughter is contagious, it's because of its special evolutionary place in social settings and consequently bonding. Researchers say that people laughing together is a sign that they are comfortable with each other. “And the more laughter [there is], the more bonding [occurs] within the group," says cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte.
A person is 30 times more likely to laugh when in the company of other people than when they're alone. In a TED Talk researcher, Sophie Scott talks about the social role of laughter. She explains, "It's an enormously behaviorally contagious effect. You can "catch" laughter from somebody else, and you're more likely to catch laughter from somebody else if you know them. It's modulated by the social context."
Now, let's move on to the strange relationship between marijuana and uncontrollable laughter.
There is limited research on the connection between weed and laughter
Biologically speaking, MRI scans show that humor is processed mainly in the right frontal and left temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex, the same areas of the brain where cannabis affects the blood flow.
Because of the controversial nature of marijuana, there is limited research on cannabis users. Scientists have not conducted large scale research on the effect of cannabis on laughter. What we do know are the general effects of cannabis.
According to Livescience, these are the possible effects of marijuana: disorientation, vertigo, attention disturbance, dissociation, euphoria, headache, depression, insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, memory impairment. Usually, academic studies only focus on the adverse effects of marijuana and certainly not on why weed has the capacity to make you laugh. But we do have some theories.
Weed leads to a detached perspective and relaxed mood that can make you prone to laugh
In the book, The Healing Magic of Cannabis by Beverly Potter and Dan Joy, they discuss that the 'detached perspective' that cannabis users acquire after smoking is why the users perceive things to be funnier. The detached perspective, makes you think differently from your usual self. The book describes it as having a stand-up comedian in your brain, just fidgeting with the mic. So, it's like having a unique perspective but it is still yours and not someone else’s. This can detachment from the self can make you think in unexpected ways. As we discussed earlier, surprise and unexpectedness are important elements of humor.
You are also more likely to laugh when you are relaxed and in a good mood. According to Scholastic, when you consume pot, THC absorbs in your blood and then travels to your brain, where it binds itself to cannabinoid receptors.
Yes, we have naturally occurring receptors for THC in our brains. After THC binds to these receptors, this activates the mesolimbic system which leads the brain to release dopamine and endorphins. These are the same chemicals released when you exercise or fall in love or maybe watch your favorite artist live. So now that you're in a good mood, you’re more likely to laugh or find something funny.
There needs to be more research on Marijuana
As we discussed earlier, cannabis stimulates blood to flow to the frontal and temporal lobes. These parts are also associated with laughter. So, because of increased activity in these areas, we're more prone to laughing and giggling. However, the neurological link between laughter and weed hasn't been proved definitively by scientists yet.
So, in theory, we can say that weed exercises its ability to make you laugh in two ways. By blood flow in the brain and exciting neural pathways that lead to the release of dopamine and endorphins. We're still waiting for researchers to conduct large scale studies, but what we do know is that there are specific strains that are more likely to have you go on laughing sprees.
In countries where marijuana has been legalized, people buy their stash from dispensaries whether it’s for medical or recreational purposes. These marijuana shops would be a dream come true if they ever opened in India. However, if you do get a chance to visit a dispensary, according to Leafly, look out for Laughing Buddha (Sativa), Blueberry Cheesecake (Hybrid), and Chronic (Indica) to increase the chances of amusement and hilarity ensuing your trip.