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Marijuana’s Impact On Brain Cells

Research has begun to indicate heavy Marijuana usage during development may have lasting effects on brain cells and mental functioning.

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Does Marijuana Kill Brain Cells?

As Marijuana becomes more widely available, more research is being done on its long-term effects. Particular interest has been taken in the impact Marijuana use has on brain cells. A large push for the federal legalization of Marijuana in the US is predicated on Marijuana’s safety concerning chemical addiction. When compared to Nicotine or even Caffeine, it’s clear that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, does not form the same level of physical dependency. There could be additional risks posed by Marijuana use- particularly to the brain.

How Does THC Interact With Brain Cells?

The primary active ingredient in Marijuana is THC. This compound stimulates receptors in the brain and facilitates the release of dopamine, the reward chemical. Receptors throughout the brain are able to bind with THC in order to achieve the psychological effects of a Marijuana intoxication referred to as feeling “high.” Brain scans show that Marijuana primarily interacts with:

  • The cerebral cortex: higher order thinking
  • The hippocampus: long-term memory, short-term memory, spatial memory
  • The nucleus accumbens: the reward (motivation and action) system
  • The cerebellum: voluntary movement and sensory management

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Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD)

Since THC is a psychoactive ingredient, people can become addicted to Marijuana. If an activity provides a positive chemical reward within the brain (dopamine), then it’s possible for someone to develop a cannabis use disorder (CUD). This reward system can be activated by consuming something like Marijuana or pursuing a behavior like gambling, spending time on the internet, or playing video games.

Research looking into the prevalence of CUD in the US found that as many as 6 million people could have a physical dependence on Marijuana. The condition is twice as common among men, and it seems to be more common among younger people. People suffering from CUD were also found to be more prone to using cigarettes, alcohol, and other illicit drugs in excess.

Marijuana’s Effects On The Brain

Studies have almost universally concluded that adults using Marijuana in moderation will most likely not see serious negative consequences. The most serious negative health consequences associated with regular Marijuana use depend more on the method of ingestion. Smoking and vaping both create issues in the lungs but appear to produce minimal long-term cognitive issues. The results for adolescents are not as clear. Several studies based around adolescent Marijuana use have found conflicting results. Some studies say that using Marijuana in large amounts regularly in adolescence could be correlated to mental consequences later in life like verbal memory, decreased IQ, and attention deficits while other studies disagree.

Marijuana And Brain Cells In Development

During early development and throughout adolescence, brain cells are creating connections and pathways through the brain. More evidence is being found that exposure to heavy Marijuana use during these developmental stages of adolescence can negatively impact the formation of these connections. The primary damage seems to be in memory capabilities, which could be due to the ways in which THC interacts with the hippocampus in the brain. The IQ score of early Marijuana users also seems to take a hit later in life, sometimes dropping 6-8 points.

Issues With Marijuana And Brain Cell Research

While these results are certainly worrying, many researchers have admitted that further exploration needs to be done in order to determine how harmful Marijuana actually is. It’s difficult to find people who solely use Marijuana, because some people who do use Marijuana heavily also consume alcohol, or use other substances. These types of variables in drug use obscure any definitive results in studies trying to isolate one drug and its effects. Some studies accounted for the amount of Marijuana used, and some only asked if people had used it or not. These types of differences can produce extremely varying results, which can negatively impact the reliability and validity of research.

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Moderation

While the conclusions of new research may differ, they agree that overuse of Marijuana, or any drug, is not healthy. While moderation applies to everything in life, drugs require more moderation because of their potential to cause adverse health effects. Due to the progressive addictive nature of some drugs, moderation becomes less attainable when physical and psychological dependence sets in.

Problematic Marijuana Use

While Marijuana is less harmful than some other illegal substances, it can still cause harmful consequences and progress to a cannabis use disorder. If you or a loved one appears to have a CUD, then please don’t hesitate to reach out. The decision to ask for help requires courage, but know that there are treatment providers one call away willing to help start the healing process. Take back control of your life, and reach out today.

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