In recent years, marijuana was legalized in many countries for recreational use because it’s considered to be a harmless drug. Moreover, in many cases, when people are wondering does marijuana help with headaches, they might find out that weed is useful to some extent.
Nonetheless, such a statement is often considered controversial. The concerns about weed use are growing with the increasing number of stroke cases reported in cannabis users. Considering this effect, many are wondering how long-term consumption can affect cognitive abilities and brain health in general. In this article, we will try to answer the question: “Is weed bad for your brain from the long-term perspective?”
How Cannabis Impacts Neurological Connection: Based on Animals Models
Throughout our bodies, we have cannabinoid receptors that form the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The endocannabinoid system of animal models was studied to find out how it impacts the ability of the brain to adapt to new pieces of information. It was figured out that ECS is able to modulate the plasticity of the brain by impacting interneuronal connections. In what way the marijuana effect on brain is expressed?
To begin with, cannabinoid receptors are found in the brain as well. During the process of smoking weed, THC, which is the main psychoactive component of marijuana, activates these receptors. This activation impacts the consumer’s mood, anxiety, and stress sensitivity. By activating these receptors, THC also disrupts neuronal networks.
One of the ways THC impacts these networks is the decreased cellular respiration and ATP supply, which is known as an “energy molecule”. As a result of these disruptions of modulation caused by THC, the memory of the model and its learning skills worsen.
The most potent structural, molecular, and functional changes were reported as a result of repeated cannabis consumption during the adolescent development period. Experiments on animal models showed that the role of ECS in the neurodevelopmental processes is very important. The intense impact on it and repeated and prolonged modulation by THC during the adolescence, or teenage period, might be more disruptive for the brain than during the adulthood period. What’s more interesting, some of the effects of THC on the brain during the adolescent period weren’t reported during the adulthood period. For example, long-term THC exposure in adult models didn’t affect genes related to synaptic plasticity processes.
Except for the period of use, we need to consider the doses of cannabis. The effects might not be so harmful if the doses of THC aren’t significant. Nonetheless, even if the doses are quite low, the prolonged period of use by models in early adolescence leads to cognitive disruptions later in adulthood.
Weed and the Brain of Humans
So we now know that the studies on animal models figured out that the prolonged period of use in adolescents can harmfully impact the brain and cause further disruptions in adulthood. But what are the effects of weed on the brains of adult humans? We have two experiments to consider.
In the first experiment, the researcher studied the cognitive effects of near-daily marijuana use for more than 2 years. As a result of the research, it was found out the average neurocognition of cannabis consumers was around one-quarter worse than that of those who didn’t smoke weed. The most significant effect was reported for the decision-making, verbal learning, retention, and executive abilities. The curious fact is that 3 other studied cognitive abilities – information processing, working memory, and attention – weren’t reported to be affected so significantly. The study also found out that the age of onset in adulthood didn’t impact the outcomes of the experiment. The total number who took part in the experiment amounted to 849 participants. The average age of the participant was around 30 years old.
In the second study, the researchers tried to figure out the correlation between lifetime marijuana use and cognitive functions in middle age. In the experiment, 3385 participants 18 to 30 years old took part. The researchers assessed their abilities in verbal memory, processing speed, and executive function at the age of 25. The result showed that those who continued to use weed in their middle age showed worse verbal memory and processing speed. Further assessments showed that verbal memory remained the only domain impacted by prolonged use. Two other domains weren’t affected from the long-term perspective.
Considering the results of the above-mentioned studies, we might conclude that prolonged marijuana use does impact the cognitive abilities of individuals. The most severe effects are reported for models that didn’t reach adulthood. In adulthood, the impact on the brain isn’t as significant but some of the abilities might worsen as well.