Does Marijuana Kill Brain Cells? – Marijuana intervenes with how neurons in the brain send, receive, and process signals through neurochemicals. Marijuana use has also been associated with some functional abnormalities in the brain. But does marijuana kill brain cells? What is the risk of incurring adverse effects on mental health and cognitive ability?
How Marijuana Interferes With The Brain
Experts do not believe that marijuana use damages or destroys brain cells. However, marijuana effects on the brain can be many, including the inhibition of short-term memories, distorting the perception of time, and regulating appetite. THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, interferes with cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
After a user ingests marijuana, it’s chemicals make their way into the bloodstream, which carries these different substances throughout the body. Also, cannabis contains molecules that are similar to those produced in the brain, known as cannabinoids. Once THC reaches the brain, it binds to these receptors, which are then directly affected by the chemical.
Short-Term Effects of Marijuana on the Brain
One of the most notorious short-term effects of marijuana on the brain is that chronic marijuana users may find it hard to recall certain recent events. The reason for this is that marijuana has an inhibitory effect on the hippocampus, a region of the brain.
The hippocampus is responsible for the formation of memories. THC comes into contact with the hippocampus and disrupts activity, which can result in short-term memory problems.
Distorted Perception of Time
One of the most commonly reported effects that marijuana has on the brain is a distorted perception of time. This phenomenon occurs because of marijuana’s impact on the cerebellum and altered blood flow to that region of the brain. The cerebellum is located in the lower back portion of the skull, which controls, among other functions, the internal timing system.
Marijuana is known to increase appetite dramatically, also referred to as “the munchies.” Marijuana impacts the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that regulates appetite.
Therefore, excessive eating after the ingestion of marijuana should not come as a surprise to those who are using. However, how the drug is consumed also affects how much a person’s appetite will be affected. For example, those who know how to make marijuana tea properly can help control their appetite.
Talkativeness and Laughter
Talkativeness and an enhanced sense of humor are common after marijuana use. During a marijuana high, the brain releases dopamine, which is associated with feelings of well-being and reward. Due to these effects, laughter and sociability may become more natural.
One of the short-term effects of marijuana is drowsiness. It has an impact on cannabinoid receptors in the brain and can result in the promotion of sleep. As with most other effects, THC is what causes this feeling of drowsiness.
Coordination and Reaction Time
Marijuana can adversely affect both the coordination and reaction times of its user. This effect occurs because THC impacts both the cerebellum and basal ganglia, meaning brain signals are affected similarly to when a person is drunk. This is one reason why driving under the influence of marijuana is prohibited, just like with alcohol.
THC makes the user less coordinated in nearly every aspect, and properly walking and talking may become challenging. Research has also found that marijuana users were unaware of their coordination problems and mistakes made while they were under the influence.
Long-Term Effects Of Marijuana On The Brain
An increasing number of studies in humans reveal the potential long-term effects of marijuana on the brain. Although cannabis use doesn’t appear to produce structural damage, a marijuana overdose can result in a reduction in mental focus over time.
In 2001, Harvard University researchers examined the cognitive performance of persons that had ingested marijuana and also after they stopped. The study revealed that marijuana use does not create permanent mental impairment. A study by the University of Colorado Boulder (2015) also found that people who used cannabis did not show signs of physical changes in the vital brain regions.
Instead, marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain may include the following:
Decline in IQ
Research has suggested that smoking marijuana can irreversibly lower IQ, and may be one of the most detrimental effects of cannabis on adolescents. Excessive marijuana users may incur an average of an 8 point reduction, and this may be enough to have an adverse impact on a person’s life.
Much-publicized research related to a study of 1000 young people in New Zealand yielded this result. For the analysis, subjects were given IQ tests in early adolescence and again when they were 38 years old.
Researchers discovered that those who were dependent on marijuana by their 18th birthday, and also continued to use excessively, had on an average loss of eight IQ points by the time of retesting.
The development of problematic use, often referred to as marijuana use disorder, is one of marijuana’s many effects on the brain. In severe cases, it can result in the development of addiction. Moreover, when a person cannot stop using marijuana despite the adverse affects their life, addiction has manifested.
The reward system in the brain consists of neural structures that are responsible for emotions, pleasure, and reward. Marijuana activates the system by reinforcing stimuli, leading to repetitive use and addictive behavior.
Mental Health Risks
The use of marijuana does come with some mental health risks. Indeed, research has revealed a clear link between marijuana use and mental health. A person who starts using cannabis at an early age is more likely to experience mental health difficulties. Some of the mental health conditions that have been associated with the use of marijuana are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Regions of the Brain Affected by Marijuana
The amygdala is a region of the brain that is affected by marijuana. This effect can play a role in feelings of unease, irritability, and anxiety. These can occur even after a cannabis high subsides. Substance abuse makes this part of the brain increasingly sensitive.
The basal ganglia plays a crucial role in pleasure and other forms of motivation. Marijuana’s impact on the brain causes this reward circuit to adjust to the presence of marijuana. This effect results in reduced sensitivity to other potential rewards and makes it difficult to feel pleasure from other activities that don’t involve marijuana use.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for essential abilities, such as thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, and self-control. The effect of weed on this circuit results in increased impulsivity, which can lead to risky, poorly-planned decisions.
Treatment for Marijuana Abuse
Recovering from marijuana dependence is best achieved with professional help. Recovery By The Sea is a specialized and accredited addiction treatment facility that is warm, comforting, and supportive of the recovery process. Our programs feature evidence-based services, such as behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and more.
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If you are ready to break free from the vicious cycle of substance abuse, contact us today to discuss treatment options!
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