HOW DOES MARIJUANA AFFECT THE BRAIN?
Pot, weed, grass, ganja and skunk, are some of the common words used to describe the dried leaves drug known as marijuana. Marijuana is a cannabis plant that is "usually smoked or eaten to entice euphoria." (1). Throughout the years, there has been research on the negative and positive effects of marijuana on the human body and the brain. Marijuana is frequently beneficial to the treatment of AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. However, researchers such as Jacques-Joseph Moreau have been working to explain how marijuana has harmful affects on the functions of central nervous system and hinders the memory and movement of the user's brain. The focus of my web paper is how the chemicals in marijuana, specifically cannabinoids and THC have an effect on the memory and emotions of a person's central nervous system.
Marijuana impinges on the central nervous system by attaching to brain's neurons and interfering with normal communication between the neurons. These nerves respond by altering their initial behavior. For example, if a nerve is suppose to assist one in retrieving short-term memory, cannabinoids receptors make them do the opposite. So if one has to remember what he did five minutes ago, after smoking a high dose of marijuana, he has trouble. Marijuana plant contains 400 chemicals and 60 of them are cannabinoids, which are psychoactive compounds that are produced inside the body after cannabis is metabolized or is extorted from the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids is an active ingredient of marijuana. The most psychoactive cannabinoids chemical in marijuana that has the biggest impact on the brain is tetrahydrocannibol, or THC. THC is the main active ingredient in marijuana because it affects the brain by binding to and activating specific receptors, known as cannabinoid receptors. "These receptors control memory, thought, concentration, time and depth, and coordinated movement. THC also affects the production, release or re-uptake (a regulating mechanism) of various neurotransmitters."(2) Neurotransmitters are chemical messenger molecules that carry signals between neurons. Some of these affects are personality disturbances, depression and chronic anxiety. Psychiatrists who treat schizophrenic patient advice them to not use this drug because marijuana can trigger severe mental disturbances and cause a relapse.
When one's memory is affected by high dose of marijuana, short-term memory is the first to be triggered. Marijuana's damage to short-term memory occurs because THC alters the way in which information is processed by the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for memory formation. "One region of the brain that contains a lot of THC receptors is the hippocampus, which processes memory."(3) Hippocampus is the part of the brain that is important for memory, learning, and the integration of sensory experiences with emotions and motivation. It also converts information into short-term memory. "Because it is a steroid, THC acts on the hippocampus and inhibits memory retrieval."(4) THC also alters the way in which sensory information is interpreted. "When THC attaches to receptors in the hippocampus, it weakness the short-term memory,"(5) and damages the nerve cells by creating structural changes to the hippocampus region of the brain. When a user has a high dose of marijuana, new information does not register into their brain and this may be lost from memory and they are not able to retrieve new information for more than a few minutes. There is also a decrease in the activity of nerve cells.
There are two types of memory behavior that is affected by marijuana, recognition memory and free cells. Recognition memory is the ability to recognize correct words. Users can usually recognize words that they previous saw before smoking but claim to recognize words that they did not previously see before smoking. This mistake is known as memory intrusions. Memory intrusions are also the consequence of THC affecting the free cell of the brain. "Marijuana disrupts the ability to freely recall words from a list that has been presented to an intoxicated subject."(6) For example, if a list of vocabulary words presented to the intoxicated subject and few minutes later, they have to recall the words that were on the list. The only words that they remember are the last group of words and not the words that are in the beginning of the list. This is an initiation that their memory storage has been affected. "The absence of an effect at short term delay times indicates that cannabinodis did not impair the ability to perform the basic task, but instead produce a selective learning and/or memory deficit."(7) I did a study with two college students (Student A and Student B) who both smoke marijuana every other week. This particular study was done an hour before, while and after they were under the influence of the drug. Student A was watching television before she smoked marijuana, was asked which advertisement was splayed before the show started and she got four out of five of her answers correct. After this first section, she smoked a small dose of marijuana twice within an hour. Fifteen minutes after she smoked her last blunt, she continued her regular activity of watching sitcoms. When a commercial would come on, I would ask her simple questions like what happened before the show went to a commercial break. Her responses would be macro-answers about what was going on but when I asked her what the main character was wearing, she did not remember. This was ironic because the protagonist wore a bright yellow suit that my friend commenting on earlier when the show began ten minutes ago. Her short-term memory is weakening because she was only able to remember big picture information and not small picture. Though the results are interesting, I know that I would have had different response on someone else because it depends on how often the user smokes and if they have good memory prior to smoking weed.
Marijuana also impairs emotions. When smoking marijuana, the user may have uncontrollable laughter one minute and paranoia the next. This instant change in emotions has to do with the way that THC affects the brain's limbic system. The limbic system is another region of the brain that governs one's behavior and emotions. It also "coordinates activities between the visceral base-brain and the rest of the nervous system."(8) I am now going to use Students B to describe how emotions are affected by marijuana. Students B is an articulate and well spoken young woman who has a troublesome relationship with her best friends which gets her upset and tense up. But after she smoked one high dose weed, her body was relaxed however, she had trouble formulating her thoughts clearly and would talk in pieces and was jubilant. It has been researched that a person needs to have high dose of marijuana would be in the state of euphoria. High dose of marijuana is measured as "15mg of THC can cause increased heart rate, gross motor disturbances, and can lead to panic attacks."(9) Thankfully, Student A did not experience any of these extreme examples.
College students usually smoke marijuana because they are stressed over schoolwork and feel that marijuana can help them unwind. I have encountered marijuana smokers who are chilled and have no worries in the world but after the effect of the drug wears off, they're sometimes capable to tacking their problem or at the original state that they were in before the drug. The effects of happiness that marijuana usually cause to the user is not a lasting effect because even though a user smokes weed to get away from the troubles of his/her own life, they still have to face these problems after the effects of the drug wears-off. In a survey with college student, an organization called, parents: the Anti-Drug interviewed college students and found that "compared to the light users, heavy marijuana users made more errors and had more difficulty sustaining attention."(10) This was evident through my second experiment with Student B but not everyone who smoke high doses of marijuana experience the same affect.
The chemicals in marijuana bring cognitive impairment and troubles with learning for the user. "Smoking [marijuana] causes some changes in the brain that are like those caused but cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. Some researchers believe that has changes may put a person more at risk of becoming addicted to other drugs such a cocaine and heroin."(11) To prevent such harm, one must be cautious of their actions. Those who do not do drugs do not risk harm. So please the next day you light up, remember you that you central nervous system and brain will be at risk.
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - BOSTON — As a treatment for physical ailments, marijuana has been shown to be effective at relieving pain, stimulating the appetite, and controlling cancer-related nausea and vomiting. These uses underlie the movement to legalize marijuana for medical use in the United States. As a treatment for psychiatric disorders, though, the risks of marijuana use exceed the benefits, reports the April 2010 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
Regular use of marijuana can lead to addiction and other mental health problems, especially in people who are genetically vulnerable, notes Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
Addiction. The concentration of THC (the herb’s psychoactive component) in marijuana has been increasing in recent years. Addiction specialists are concerned that this increased potency might accelerate development of dependence.
Anxiety. At low doses, THC can be sedating. At higher doses, it can induce intense anxiety. Although some people find that marijuana calms them down, the most commonly reported side effects of this substance are intense anxiety and panic attacks.
Mood disorders. In people with bipolar disease, marijuana can bring on manic episodes and increase rapid cycling between manic and depressive moods. Several studies also suggest that in some people, regular marijuana use may trigger depression.
Psychosis. Marijuana intensifies psychotic symptoms and worsens outcomes in people with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders. The results of several large observational studies also strongly suggest that using marijuana can increase the risk of developing psychosis, particularly in young people.
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Question: How Does Marijuana Affect the Brain?
Answer: THC affects the nerve cells in the part of the brain where memories are formed. This makes it hard for the user to recall recent events (such as what happened a few minutes ago). It is hard to learn while high - a working short-term memory is required for learning and performing tasks that call for more than one or two steps.
Among a group of long-time heavy marijuana users in Costa Rica, researchers found that the people had great trouble when asked to recall a short list of words (a standard test of memory). People in that study group also found it very hard to focus their attention on the tests given to them.
As people age, they normally lose nerve cells in a region of the brain that is important for remembering events. Chronic exposure to THC may hasten the age-related loss of these nerve cells. In one study, researchers found that rats exposed to THC every day for 8 months (about 1/3 of their lifespan), showed a loss of brain cells comparable to rats that were twice their age.
It is not known whether a similar effect occurs in humans. Researchers are still learning about the many ways that marijuana could affect the brain.
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