Normally, your brain operates by passing information from one place to another through the use of chemicals. Without any disruptions, we are usually able to learn and remember things fairly efficiently. Introduce a drug like marijuana into the mix, however, and things start to get interesting – and not necessarily in a good way.
Marijuana is a drug. Despite its medicinal properties, it brings on temporary changes to the brain. Or are they not quite as temporary as we might think? How does smoking marijuana affect the brain, both in the short term and after long term use? How severe, really, are these effects?
Coming to a better understanding of how marijuana impacts the brain begins with a look into its main component, a chemical with a very long and scary looking name.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short
Before you can truly grasp how marijuana impacts the brain, you will have to first get to know the chemical known as THC.
- THC is the main active ingredient found within marijuana. “Active ingredient” just means it interacts with your body once you inhale it.
- Scientists have located and identified the sites in the brain that THC interacts with specifically, called cannabinoid receptors.
- These receptors don’t just exist in one part of your brain: they’re all over it. In every part of the brain, cells attempt to communicate with one another using certain chemicals. When THC shows up, it slows the entire communication process down.
Think of your brain as an orderly, efficiently functioning office and THC as an outsider who doesn’t really belong there. When someone smokes marijuana, THC quickly makes its way to the brain and attaches itself to cannabinoid receptors and disrupts all normal brain functions.
In other words, it waltzes into the office, unplugs the coffee maker, interrupts every important board meeting with an air horn and disconnects the internet. Efficiency in the once orderly office is no more.
Your brain on marijuana in the short term
The reason people smoke any kind of drug is for its short term “boosts,” such as feelings of relaxation and elation. Unfortunately, there are short term side effects of marijuana to go along with the “good” ones.
- Lowered reaction time (which makes driving unsafe)
- Poor coordination
- Sensory distortion, meaning someone might struggle with processing emotions or physical sensations like pain
- Feelings of sleepiness or depression after the initial “high”
Remember, THC makes it harder for the brain to complete its normal functions. So completely natural processes like learning and memory are not only impacted in the short term, but in the long term as well.
Your brain on marijuana in the long term
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long term marijuana use can also have lasting negative affects on the brain’s ability to function normally. This is due to a continuous reintroduction of THC to the brain. The longer it hangs around the office, the less the office will be able to perform to its full potential.
Long term affects of marijuana on the brain include:
- A decrease in the ability to learn and retain information (memory impairment)
- The inability to clearly understand things
- Chronic drowsiness
- Apathy and lack of motivation
- Changes in mood and behavior
Much of the research conducted on marijuana use comes from animal studies, but more and more scientists are making connections between marijuana and these negative affects on the brain in humans. The more you disrupt your brain’s normal activities, the less effectively your brain can do its job.
Always consider the possible long term affects of any drug you introduce to your body, as it will always in some way directly impact your brain. Learn more about marijuana addiction.