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The Effects of Weed on the Brain: Short and Long-Term Consequences

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Weed also called marijuana has long-term effects on brain cells and overall cognition. Read the article below to know in detail.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Published At May 15, 2023
Reviewed AtMay 18, 2023

Introduction:

Weed is among many colloquial terms for dried, cured flowers from any plant in the cannabis family. This herbal substance is frequently ground, milled, or otherwise broken up before being rolled into cigarettes, cigars, or smoked in various pipes. Weed is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the United States, trailing only more socially acceptable substances like alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.

The most recent threat of weed has come in the form of new legislation and laws in many cities and states worldwide, allowing and regulating the use of weed in the same way alcohol is allowed and regulated. This has increased the availability of marijuana and increased the risk of addiction to unprecedented levels. Retail marijuana stores, also known as 'dispensaries,' appear to be opening on every street in every town in America. Users are offered a wide range of weed varieties with varying effects, flavors, and purposes. Some establishments even sell weed-infused food products known as 'edibles,' which can be dangerous for users who have never tried them before.

How Does Weed Work?

THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is a highly potent chemical that has an immediate effect. Once in the body, THC binds to and slows communication between cannabinoid receptors, which are primarily found in the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and hippocampus. These brain regions, which control unconscious muscle movements, coordination, and memory, are also the ones that suffer the most long-term effects.

The system on which marijuana has an effect is known as the endocannabinoid (EC) system. It affects nearly every part of the brain, including the amygdala (emotion regulation), the brain stem (pain sensitivity), and the hypothalamus (hunger and sexual impulses), all of which are responsible for the classic symptoms of a marijuana high.

Can Weed Kill Brain Cells?

Medicinal and recreational marijuana use is becoming more common in the United States, with more states legalizing the substance each year, raising concerns about the drug's effects on the brain. Prolonged exposure to and abuse of substances such as heroin, meth, and alcohol can cause irreversible brain damage, especially when abuse begins in childhood. There are some pieces of evidence to suggest that marijuana abuse is similar.

The primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC attaches to the brain's cannabinoid receptors (cannabinoid receptor type 1 or CB1 receptor) when someone smokes or consumes marijuana, affecting hippocampal neurons, the region of the brain that controls appetite, pain regulation, mood, and memory. As a result, the person using marijuana has a reduced ability to focus and recall important information. In addition, memory and concentration can be impaired depending on how much marijuana is smoked and for how long. Basic motor skills can also deteriorate, making tasks like driving more difficult and potentially dangerous.

Despite the cognitive impairment caused by marijuana use, scientists are divided about the long-term effects of marijuana on the brain. According to some studies, regular marijuana use in adolescence is associated with a lower volume of specific brain regions involved in a wide range of executive functions such as learning, memory, and impulse control compared to non-users. Other studies have found no significant structural differences in the brains of people who use and do not use the drug.

There is a temporary effect on brain cells, as with many substances; some die during consumption, but this is neither a consequential nor a permanent die-off. Almost all of the negative effects of marijuana are caused by smoking. Smoking causes the desired substance to be burned to consume the active compounds and produce several potentially toxic compounds, such as carbon monoxide, tar, and others. Inhaling these compounds and extremely hot smoke depletes oxygen in the blood and brain and kills brain cells.

What Are the Effects of Weed on the Brain?

Effect Of Weed On IQ:

Marijuana's effect on the brain is influenced by the amount smoked and the user's age. Individuals under the age of 25, whose brains are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of marijuana on the brain. A study of marijuana's effect on IQ (intelligence quotient) discovered that people who started using marijuana at a young age lost six to eight points by middle age. Furthermore, those who smoked marijuana during adolescence and then stopped did not regain their IQ points. Individuals who started using marijuana in their adulthood, on the other hand, did not experience any IQ loss.

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana on the Brain:

Synthetic marijuana, a man-made hallucinogenic substance that is typically sprayed onto plant material, is unsafe for human consumption but has grown in popularity in recent years. It is also known as "fake weed," and it has mind-altering effects that can cause people to act strangely. Synthetic marijuana is illegal and may contain toxic ingredients that cause rapid heartbeat, unexplained bleeding, and vomiting.

Synthetic marijuana, like marijuana, affects the brain by binding to the cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1), which is found in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Synthetic weed binds to CB1 receptors more strongly than THC, making it more potent in the brain. Because CB1 receptors are found in multiple locations throughout the brain, side effects can be severe and harmful.

Synthetic marijuana may cause the following effects on the brain and body:

  • Memory loss.

  • Seizures.

  • Psychosis.

  • Cardiovascular and respiratory issues.

  • Stroke.

  • Paranoia.

  • Hallucinations.

  • Euphoria or altered perception.

  • Violent behavior.

  • Kidney and brain dysfunction.

Synthetic marijuana, in addition to the above symptoms, can be addictive to those who use it. Brain cell activity is likely to decline after prolonged use of synthetic marijuana, along with an increase in negative physiological symptoms such as those listed above.

Short and Long-Term Effects of Weed on the Brain:

Marijuana use has the following immediate and short-term effects on the brain:

  • Distance estimation difficulty.

  • Difficulty remembering.

  • Fatigue and confusion.

  • Paranoia.

  • Anxiety.

Long-term consequences may include, but are not limited to:

  • Some degree of cognitive impairment.

  • Some memory loss.

  • Increased tolerance of marijuana.

  • Marijuana addiction.

Conclusion:

Marijuana has calming effects on the individual, but when used excessively or in combination with other substances, it can be extremely harmful. Marijuana withdrawal can be difficult; if an individual is unable to stop or is endangering their life, detox, and treatment may be required. Individuals are removed from the triggers that cause a relapse during treatment. Meanwhile, counseling can assist patients in recovery by learning and understanding what they require the most. There is rehabilitation assistance available. Medications can help reduce marijuana cravings, and detox removes toxins from the body and restores it to health.

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Dr. Abhishek Juneja
Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Neurology

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