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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.

Does Marijuana Kill Brain Cells?

As Marijuana becomes more widely available, more research is being done on its long-tern 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 THC does not form the same level of chemical dependency.

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 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: reward system
  • The Cerebellum: voluntary movement and sensory management

Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD)

Though THC is not especially chemically addictive, people can still 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 use disorder. It could be 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 be struggling with a 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.

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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 don’t seem to produce cognitive issues. The results for adolescents are not quite as clear. Several studies based around adolescent Marijuana use have found that taking Marijuana in large amounts regularly could be correlated to mental consequences later in life.

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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 the Research

While these results are certainly worrying, many researchers have admitted that more work needs to be done in order to iron out how harmful Cannabis actually is. It’s difficult to find people who only use Marijuana heavily, because most people who do use it heavily also drink large amounts of 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 may further muddy the waters as to the effects Marijuana has on the brain.

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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 slightly more moderation (and preferably abstinence) because of their tendency to cause adverse health effects. Results seem to suggest that moderate use even during development may have no detrimental effects, but waiting until a less sensitive time in mental development is advisable.

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Problematic Marijuana Use

While Marijuana is less harmful than some other illegal substances, it can still damage someone if they’re suffering from a use disorder. If you or a loved one is struggling with a CUD, then please don’t hesitate to reach out. The decision to ask for help requires courage, but know that there are compassionate 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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