What Does Weed Do To Your Brain?
Cannabis affects the brain by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in our cells. Chemical compounds (phytocannabinoids) produced in the cannabis plant then mimic and take the place of the human body’s naturally created endocannabinoids.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and its psychotropic effect can be explained by looking at how it interacts with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. The brain’s cannabinoid receptors are found in the area of the central nervous system that controls things like memory, fear, mood, pain, pleasure and motor function. As we ingest cannabis, its chemical compounds engage with the endocannabinoid system and the psychological and therapeutic effects begin.
Suddenly, our neurons fire faster than before, and this magnifies our thoughts and perception. Excess dopamine is then released, often resulting in a relaxed, euphoric feeling of being “high.” The endocannabinoid system always tries to maintain an optimum balance between our mind and body. Throw THC into the mix and the system suddenly changes.
Users should be mindful of THC content. At its highest doses (upwards of 80% in concentrates) marijuana products can produce hallucinations in the brain that can result in serious anxiety attacks. Thankfully, new research is showing that these effects are primarily short term. A recent study examined the brains of 29 cannabis-using adults and 50 adolescents, all of whom were daily users of cannabis. MRIs of their brains were then compared to the same number of non-consuming people in their age bracket. The conclusion was that there were no brain abnormalities resulting from long term cannabis use.
In fact, we now know that cannabis has many compounds that are a benefit to the human brain, including anti-inflammatory agents, antioxidants and neuroprotective agents. It has even been shown to promote brain cell growth in the hippocampus.
It has been proven that for sufferers of Parkinson’s Disease, cannabis can have a neuroprotective effect on dopamine neurons, preventing and slowing degenerations. Dr. Gary Wenk, a PHD who championed a 2008 cannabis study at Ohio University, said “Using low doses of marijuana for prolonged periods of time at some point in your life, possibly when you’re middle-aged is probably going to slow the onset or development of dementia.” This can be attributed to THC’s ability to reduce the build-up of amyloid plaques and inflammation in the brain.
Despite the many positives, age plays a major role in the effect cannabis will have on the brain. Medical professionals advise that chronic cannabis use among adolescents can have negative long-term effects, as their brains are still developing. The main concerns here are dependency and inhibition of attention and memory. There is also evidence that cannabis can lower IQ in general. A New Zealand study from 2012 examined 1,037 individuals ages 13-18 that included cannabis consumers and non-consumers. It was revealed that cannabis users showed an 8-point drop in IQ. It is noteworthy that these people were considered “abusers” of the substance, taking in more than the average recreational user.Back To FAQ