Marijuana’s Impact on the Brain
Marijuana is the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of the hemp plant. It can be smoked, vaped, eaten or brewed like a tea. Daily use of marijuana will cause dependency and addiction in up to 50% of users. Marijuana’s impact on the brain is quite apparent after increased use.
What is Marijuana made of?
There are two psychoactive compounds present in marijuana, and each one affects a person differently. The first compound, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), causes changes in visual perception, which is the first stage of memory formation. THC causes feelings of euphoria, an increase in appetite, paranoia, psychosis and dependency on the drug. It also causes the malfunction of cognition and memory formation. THC is stored in the fat cells of the body and it is released slowly, causing higher levels to remain in the body.
Cannabidol (CBD) is the other compound found in Marijuana. This compound increases the naturally occurring cannabidoid levels in the brain that are responsible for normal brain development. It causes a relaxing, anti-anxiety sensation in those who use it. CBD protects against dependency, psychosis and cognitive impairment and acts as a counter-balance to THC. Unfortunately, new strains of marijuana have much higher levels of THC and very low levels of CBD. The higher levels of THC are making the CBD of no effect, and it is causing higher rates of addiction. THC also causes impairment in intelligence, memory formation and brain neuro-transmissions.
Research has shown that marijuana drug abuse decreases the volume of the thalamus and striatum areas of the brain. These areas in the brain control memory formation and the processing of learning and memory activity. These physical abnormalities are shown to be similar to the brains of schizophrenics, and this may be why marijuana drug abuse causes schizophrenia to develop in marijuana users. The structural damage to the brain caused by marijuana drug abuse increases over time, raising the risk for developing other mental disorders. Some of these disorders are: depression, anxiety, psychosis, suicidal ideation and schizophrenia.
Marijuana’s Impact on the Brain
Marijuana over-activates specific cell receptors in the brain that create feelings of euphoria, mood changes, an altered sense of time, difficulty with thinking and problem solving and impaired memory and body movement. Marijuana causes short and long term effects on the brain. A recent study showed that people who started using marijuana in their teens had lost an average of 8 points in their IQ tests by the time they reached their thirties. For those who stopped using marijuana in their thirties, no improvement in their IQ scores occurred. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that when marijuana use begins during adolescents, it may cause permanent brain damage.
Imaging studies were performed on adolescents who were regular users of marijuana. The images revealed that neural connections in specific brain areas were impaired. These areas were involved with a wide range of brain functions such as: learning, memory and impulse control.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is conducting studies using neuro-imaging and other technology to determine how marijuana and other drugs affect adolescent brains. The damaging effect of marijuana on adolescent brains is shown to be more severe in females. The damaging effects are poor attention, reduced IQ, executive dysfunction, cognitive disinhibition and abnormal brain activation. People who are regular marijuana users have less neuronal efficiency.
Research is still in its infancy regarding recovery of damage done to the brain by marijuana drug abuse. Marijuana has neuro-toxic effects that may be reversible, but it has not yet been determined. Reports of exercise as an effective recovery tool are being seen. Physical activity has been effective in improving both brain health and neuroplastcity. Exercise is beginning to emerge as an important recovery tool by improving cerebral blood flow, executive control and white matter integrity.
Other good news is being presented by the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA). Their research reports claim that neuroplasticity is occurring, and that the brain is rewiring itself during abstinence. To what extent the reversal of damage will be, has yet to be determined. But there is hope, and with continued research for more effective recovery tools, the brain damage caused by marijuana abuse may be totally reversed.