Marijuana is considered to be one of the most sought-after drugs, used for both medicinal and recreational purposes; however, opinions about marijuana’s pros and cons vary drastically, preventing its legalization in many parts of the world.
Numerous studies have been conducted in the hopes of discovering marijuana’s positive and negative properties, its various effects on the human body, and the brain in particular.
How Does Marijuana Affect the Brain?
Marijuana affects the brain in numerous ways, including by inhibiting short-term memories, distorting your sense of time, and regulating your appetite. THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, interacts with the body’s cannabinoid receptors.
After the user inhales the substance, the chemicals found in cannabis make their way into the bloodstream, which transports these different compounds throughout the body. 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, is a mind-altering chemical considered to be the most important component of cannabis. Additionally, marijuana also contains molecules that resemble those produced in the brain called cannabinoids.
Short-term Memory Inhibition
Long-term marijuana users may find it hard to recollect certain recent events. The reason for this is that marijuana has an inhibitory effect on the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory control. THC comes into contact with the hippocampus and disrupts its activity, which can lead to short-term memory problems.
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Distorted Sense of Time
One of the most highly-reported effects of marijuana is a distorted sense of time. This stems from marijuana’s effect on the cerebellum and the altered blood flow to that part of the brain. The cerebellum is located in the lower back portion of the skull, which controls muscular activity, language, and the internal timing system.
Subsequently, excessive eating after the consumption of a joint should not come as a surprise to experienced users.
Marijuana And Painkillers
Marijuana is being developed as an alternative to opioids as a painkiller. This could dramatically reduce deaths from painkiller overdoses which is one of the biggest causes of preventable death in the United States.
This has pros and cons of its own. Due to the reduction in opioid consumption, overdose and death from opioids will reduce in numbers. However, marijuana addiction is just as likely to occur, and although it is far less deadly than opioids, it is much easier to illegally obtain and abuse. With extensive abuse, marijuana has been proven to induce psychosis and other detrimental health disorders.
Yet, it could be argued that the marijuana that would be used as a painkiller would be better monitored and managed than recreational marijuana, meaning the adverse effects would be minimal. Whilst there may be some adverse effects, minamilising them would still be better than those of opioids. Furthermore, there is no history of death from marijuana overdose on record, whereas there were 33,000 opioid-related deaths in 2015 alone.
Coordination and Reaction
Marijuana can negatively influence both your coordination and your reaction times. This is because THC influences both your cerebellum and basal ganglia, meaning the brain’s signals are similarly influenced like they are when drunk.
This is the reason driving under the influence of marijuana is also prohibited.
THC makes the user clumsier in every aspect, with walking and talking correctly becoming just as arduous. Studies also found that marijuana users were unaware of their clumsiness and errors made whilst under the influence. They also had a worse memory.
What are Marijuana’s Effects on Teenage Brains?
Marijuana use and abuse by teenagers or children with still-developing brains can have serious effects, including:
- Motor coordination and concentration issues.
- Permanent cognitive impairment and memory loss.
- Lowered IQ
- Decreased problem-solving ability
- Inability to process information
However, marijuana also has anti-epileptic qualities. As many as 84% of children were reported to have fewer seizures because of the intake of marijuana, with 11% reporting being seizure free. Forty-two percent was reported as having 80% fewer seizures.
Marijuana As A Gateway Drug
It could be argued that very few smokers of marijuana ever go on to even smoke it again, with only 10% becoming regular users. Even less than that amount go on to harder drugs. However, marijuana does have a correlation with the increased consumption of both cigarettes and alcohol. Those who smoke marijuana are also three times more likely to use heroin in their lifetime, highlighting the addictive and almost persuasive influence it can have on the brain.
It could be argued that the psychological effects of marijuana lead to fewer inhibitions when it comes to trying new substances. That is what causes people to become addicted to drugs that are far stronger and more dangerous. Though, the percentage of people affected by this is minimal.
Long Term Effects On The Brain
Marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain are not conclusively known, with many studies contradicting one another or finding no concrete evidence.
Some studies have shown that the long-term effects of using marijuana are largely negative. Early use of marijuana made learning and memory based tasks considerably harder in later life. It also physically changed the structure of the hippocampus in the same way that extreme insomnia would.
This suggests that marijuana has the greatest effect on those whose brains are still developing, by essentially blunting their intellectual progress.
However, these studies on IQ are not conclusive due to other similar studies finding no clear correlation between IQ and smoking marijuana from a young age.
What are Marijuana’s Benefits for The Brain?
Marijuana has been shown to have several positive effects on the brain. These benefits include:
- Protecting the brain from concussions and trauma — Marijuana can lessen brain bruising.
- Eliminating nightmares — THC can affect sleep cycles and disrupt REM sleep.
- Slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s — THC has been shown to slow the formation of amyloid plaques.
- Easing Anxiety – Marijuana has been known to cool nerves and anxiety within those who take it. However, this has to be a small dose, anything more can make anxiety worse.
- Easing Post-traumatic stress – Similarly to anxiety, PTSD can be eased with the right amount of marijuana.
Today, marijuana is used for medicinal as well as recreational purposes. Its effects on the brain, as well as the rest of the human body, are myriad; but whether its positive effects outweigh its negative ones is still up for debate.