Last updated: April 6, 2020
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 45 percent of adults age 26 or older have used marijuana at least once in their life. The same survey indicates more than 13 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 have used marijuana within the past year. Although some states now allow marijuana use in some form, either medical or recreational, it is still a dangerous psychoactive drug that can cause serious health and well-being problems.
Affecting the brain
The leaves, buds and flowers of hemp plants (cannabis sativa) are typically cultivated and processed, then consumed through smoking, vaporizing and eating. Marijuana contains the chemicals cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes most of the mental and physical side effects. THC enters the blood stream and then the brain depending on how it’s used and then interacts with the brain’s endocannabinoid (EC) system and cannabinoid (CB) receptors. Marijuana interferes with how these receptors communicate. As a result, cell communication and thus body functions are slowed down. THC also floods the brain with chemicals that stimulate pleasure and a feeling of euphoria. The other chemical compound cannabidiol (CBD) is non-psychoactive, but scientists are still trying to determine how it affects the brain.
Adolescence is a period when teens experience rapid physical growth. Research shows that teenagers that use marijuana experience various developmental problems. For example, teens that use marijuana can have brain abnormalities, such as reduced brain volume and quality of white matter. Not only this, but marijuana causes gray matter to develop abnormally. Unfortunately, gray matter is directly associated with intelligence. Marijuana also causes smaller hippocampal and prefrontal cortex sizes. Therefore, marijuana directly changes brain structure and neurological performance. Marijuana also causes reduced cognitive functioning, such as poor performance in school and memory and concentration problems.
After someone uses marijuana, they will probably feel more relaxed, happy and even hungry. The THC in marijuana causes the brain’s neurons to keep firing, which causes alternative perceptions and obsessive thoughts. However, this also creates intense relaxation and euphoria. This is a result of the THC dominating the brain’s reward circuitry. That is, cannabinoids directly stimulate the mesencephalon’s dopamine (DA) neurons, which release chemicals that cause feelings of pleasure. In addition to this, cannabinoids interfere with basic cognitive functioning, such as memory formation. Chronic marijuana usage causes the hippocampus to shrink, which is essential for memory storage and processing.
Marijuana slows down and interferes with brain functioning. It can increase irritability and restlessness. Marijuana affects the brain’s amygdala, which results in increased panic or paranoia, and the neocortex, which can cause strange sensations and altered thinking. As a result, people who use marijuana may experience hallucinations and temporary paranoia. In fact, schizophrenics that use marijuana will experience worse symptoms, such as extreme delusions or disorganized thinking. In addition to this, people who use marijuana are more likely to develop depression, panic attacks, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Marijuana affects the body in different ways, but long term users and adolescents should be aware that its effects on the brain are clearly damaging. Though studies are being done in order to find ways for people to excuse using it medicinally, the data is already in concerning the damage it can do.