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How Cannabis Affects the Brain

09/30/2019 | Patrick Meier | Lifestyle

Cannabis science is undoubtedly coming to be one of the most researched subjects. As this recreational drug becomes legalized across the globe, more and more researchers seek to analyze both the potential benefits and side effects. Today,  the effects cannabis has on the brain, has become quite a popular topic. So, in this article, we'll briefly cover how marijuana impacts your brain function.

Cannabis Science: How Does Cannabis Affect your Brain?

Diving deep into cannabis science, we can already see that marijuana can affect a person state of mind significantly. The main chemical responsible for causing a person to feel high is THC. This chemical, properly known as tetrahydrocannabinol resembles a neurotransmitter in your brain called anandamide.  

To put it into perspective, anandamide is a neurotransmitter responsible for producing the feeling of joy and bliss. It's a naturally produced cannabinoid that is produced by the endocannabinoid system of the brain.

Now, the moment you smoke marijuana, this chemical compound—THC—is rapidly absorbed into the endocannabinoid system of the brain. In doing so, THC can cause a series of neurochemical reactions to occur across different parts of the brain.

Let's look at a few examples!

  • In the amygdala, excessive THC can result in paranoia.
  • THC absorbed into the basal ganglia can cause a slowed reaction
  • In the nucleus accumbens, absorption of THC can cause that iconic feeling of euphoria

What does Weed do to You: The Mind and Body!

Now smoking weed doesn't just affect your brain! It can affect other parts of your body like your lungs, heart, and even reproductive tract.

If you smoke marijuana regularly, then this is going to impact the health of your lungs. But in both a postive and negative way!

Smoking is smoking, regardless of whether or not you use bongs or joints. The simple act of inhaling smoke can result in a range of respiratory problems. That being said, smoking marijuana, in particular, is not as harmful to the lungs as one may think.

A study in 2012 examined the effects smoking marijuana had on individuals. The results of the study were compared to smokers who used cigarettes, and it concluded the following:

People who smoke cannabis often inhale and hold their smoke a lot longer than a cigarette smoker. Thus marijuana smokers often had a higher lung capacity.

THC in cannabis is believed to have antitumoral effects; therefore it is entirely plausible to suggest that marijuana smokers are not at risk of developing cancer from smoking.

Marijuana Effects on Brain Function

To date, multiple studies have been published to understand how cannabis affects the brain. And, the results are shocking as equally as they are interesting.

Research done in 2014 found that long-term cannabis smokers displayed less bilateral orbitofrontal gyri volume and increased grey matter in some areas of the brain. Scientists note that grey matter seemed to increase in volume within the hippocampus, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens. Now, an increased brain volume would look like a benefit! However, it is not! 

Teenagers and adults with increased grey matter would have lower reactivity and lower perceptual reasoning.

So what does this all mean?

When smoking cannabis your attention span may be heightened, but only if it's something of interest to you. However, your memory and ability to perform tasks will significantly be impaired. In addition to this, long-term cannabis users are at a higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as acute psychosis, schizophrenia, depression, and panic disorders.

Marijuana and Alzheimer's

Multiple studies have now begun to look at the potential benefits marijuana can have on the brain. Specifically, research studies claim that marijuana usage can benefit those who have Alzheimer's disease.

Although much more research is needed to validate these claims, studies have shown that the active compound—THC—can influence the amount of amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells. Specifically,  amyloid beta is a type of protein that deposits onto nerve cells within the brain. In excessive amounts, this can lead to dementia and Alzheimer's in people.

So, How Does Cannabis Impact your Brain?

Marijuana undoubtedly will continue to grow in popularity as it becomes legalized across the globe. It is important to understand that the negative effects cannabis has on the brain is linked to the chemical compound THC. Nevertheless, it’s not all bad! As many studies have demonstrated that THC can be used to improve symptoms seen in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

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