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What Effects Does Marijuana Have on the Brain?

The recreational use of marijuana is possibly one of the greatest problems facing youth in the world today. Marijuana, also called cannabis, weed, herb, pot and other slang terms, has been described as beneficial by some. They claim it has health benefits and even cures disease. Other parties point to marijuana’s significant negative side effects which are long-lasting. Although multiple studies have have shown the detrimental effects of marijuana, there are many who still defend its use.

The popular belief that marijuana use is a harmless indulgence is an inaccurate assessment of the facts. The regular use of weed has been proven by researchers and medical personnel alike to have consequences seen in both short- and long-term use of the drug. The deleterious outcomes of marijuana use are clear. In this article, we will review what those are, especially the effects it has on your brain.

There is merit to the claims marijuana has some benefits. The medical use of marijuana has been going on for well over a decade, with desirable outcomes among the countries that make use of it. It is, however, important to note that medical and recreational use of the drug differs, and one should not confuse the two. It would be unwise to take any medication without being told to do so by a doctor or qualified health personnel. Therefore, it would also be unwise to consume marijuana outside the stipulated instruction and direction of a healthcare practitioner who has ascertained the need for its use in a particular circumstance. As much as the argument for the beneficial uses of marijuana holds some water, the water it holds is in a particularly shaped receptacle. Meaning there are stipulated circumstances and guidelines which dictate its use as something beneficial.

In this article, we will consider the negative side of marijuana.

What is it about weed/Marijuana that makes it so bad?

Inside the cannabis plant, at least 400 different chemical compounds have been identified which cause the effects experienced by users. Of all of these, three main chemicals called cannabinoids have been identified as being the most common compounds. They are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN). All of these have significant effects on the body, ranging from psychoactive to medicinal, hallucinogenic to analgesic, and even euphoric experiences.

Of the three compounds, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is by far the most potent in terms of its effects, especially as it pertains to the brain. THC binds itself to the cells of your brain called neurons. Neurons are the basic cell type found in the brain, and they are responsible for its basic functions. The brain is made of neurons, in a large sense. THC, therefore, attaches itself to parts of your brain causing diverse changes, which lead to cognitive effects (conscious intellectual activity), behavioral effects, perceptual effects (how we experience certain things in our environment like pain, taste, or time) and subjective effects (how an individual’s person is affected).

The effects of THC are also dependent on what part of the brain the cannabinoid binds itself to. Wherever it binds, it causes an effect. These changes have been described as long-lasting, which means marijuana affects neuronal architecture.

How does THC affect the brain?

Depending on where the cannabinoid binds in the brain, it will affect brain function associated with the place it binds. Your brain is made up of various parts that have differing roles. We’ll go through a few of these areas, and see what influence marijuana has on them.

The first place is the cerebral cortex. This is the part of your brain where memory and thinking happens. When THC binds to this area of the brain, it causes altered thinking and impairment in short term memory. It also affects the individual’s learning and problem-solving ability, as well as reducing the ability to focus on a task or to pay attention. This would typically present itself as a young individual who stops his/her education because he/she feels it does not fit him/her. Also, the individual would seem unfocused, with a sketchy memory, short-term memory, and might also seem indifferent to the world around him/her.

Another part of the brain marijuana affects is the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of your brain which keeps you upright as you walk and ensures you keep one foot in front of the other. It ensures your muscles are well coordinated. This part of the brain is invaluable for people like musicians, artists, sculptors and anyone who requires impeccable levels of coordination in their trade. The cerebellum is also important in the execution of ordinary tasks such as walking, driving, cutting up vegetables and even dancing.

Another area of the brain targeted by THC is the amygdala. The amygdala is a relatively small part of the brain, but it is responsible for large parts of our personality and our interaction with the world around us. The amygdala controls emotions, especially those of fear and anxiety. It has been shown THC binds to this region in the brain and causes panic and paranoia, especially with chronic users. Paranoia, or a feeling of threat in the absence of one, is one of the more common symptoms associated with marijuana use. Users are also seen to experience unrealistic, extreme forms of distrust, and persistent false beliefs regarding themselves, which are maintained despite clear and indisputable evidence to the contrary. These are called delusions. Some even suffer hallucinations and psychosis. A proven possible outcome of marijuana use is mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and a predisposition to suicide.

Is Marijuana really all that bad?

There is some merit in marijuana’s use within the confines of medical treatment. It is a well-known fact that cannabis offers some medical benefits. In parts of the brain like the brain stem and the spinal cord, cannabis has been proven to offer some desirable outcomes. In the brain stem, for instance, it has been proven to help reduce emesis (vomiting). The spinal cord seems to have some positive response to the effects of cannabinoids. These include analgesia (pain-reduction or pain-relieving).

Have you ever wondered why marijuana users tend to have an insatiable appetite (or in slang terms, ‘get the munchies)? Cannabinoids found in marijuana bind to a small place called the hypothalamus, located near the underside of the brain. Here, THC works to cause an increased appetite so famously associated with marijuana. This effect is of particular benefit in medical conditions that cause emaciation with a loss of the desire to consume food. In such instances, said effect of marijuana is welcome.

Can Marijuana be addictive?(Beware!)

The use of marijuana carries with it a real risk of addiction. This is attributed to its effect on the body’s reward system. The reward system is circuitry in the brain responsible for causing feelings of pleasure when turned on by some factor, external or internal. THC acts on this delicate brain system, triggering your mind to associate marijuana use with a desirable feeling, a “high”, that your brain will want to have repeated. The more you use marijuana, the less sensitive your brain becomes to its effect. This leads to the user having to increase his/her consumption, a phenomenon known as tolerance. These two things, the desirable high and the tolerance effect, coupled together lead to dependence, a very common descriptor of addiction. However, the rate of addiction in marijuana use is not as high as in drugs like cocaine or heroin. It is, however, still significant enough to provoke a careful cost-benefit analysis of its use.

Some important stats around Marijuana: Are there?

Several studies have shown the developing teenage brain is more likely to suffer damage from the use of marijuana than the average adult brain. This is because the teenage brain is still developing, and therefore more susceptible to external influence. “Early regular cannabis use in adolescence may have an impact on cerebral and cognitive functions,” says a pharmacology article published in 2020 by Prof. Dr. Stefan Dhein, an authority in the field from Germany.

Some good news is there has not been a strong association between marijuana use and life-threatening overdose risks, even in heavy use. Also, withdrawal effects of stopping use are neither debilitating nor life-threatening. They include things like sleep disturbances, irritability, and a depressed mood. These, however, are not long-lasting and could stop after a few weeks of abstinence.

What can we therefore summarise about Marijuana?

In conclusion, marijuana significantly affects various parts of your brain and its functions. Most of these effects are harmful and undesirable, especially for the young brain. Marijuana cessation or stoppage, rehabilitation, and recovery from the use of marijuana are all possible.

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