How Cannabis Use Damages Your Brain

Marijuana has a serious effect on marriage and relationships.  In order to have a close, connected relationship, your spouse will most likely want you to be tuned in to their feelings, and to be able to discuss important matters affecting your life together.  Having a family pulls adults in several directions at once, so you need to focus and be able to juggle the many demands of life.  Since using marijuana daily negatively affects attention, learning, motivation, the ability to form new memories and to shift focus.  These limitations make it difficult to develop a life plan and even harder to carry out your plan.

Functioning at a high level is crucial in today’s world.  Someone who smokes marijuana daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time.  Cannabis use is associated with reduced educational attainment.  As a result, fewer heavy use smokers completed college, and most had lower household incomes.  Marijuana affected their cognitive abilities, career achievements, social lives, and physical and mental health.  Heavy smokers also have more accidents and injuries than those who do not smoke.  “Amotivational syndrome”, associated with marijuana use, causes diminished or absent drive to engage in typically rewarding activities.  All these effects detrimentally affect relationships and marriages.

When you smoke marijuana, THC binds to the receptors in the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, sensory perception, and time perception.  THC artificially stimulates the brain areas.  It also disrupts the function of the natural chemicals found in the brain. The overstimulation of the brain through THC use can alter the function of these natural chemicals.  This can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms when the drug use stops.  Reported effects of marijuana include euphoria, relaxation, heightened sensory perception, laughter, altered perception of time, and increased appetite.  After a while, you may feel sleepy or depressed.  Sometimes, marijuana use may produce anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic.  If you take large doses, you might experience an acute psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and loss of the sense of personal identity.  Higher incidences of schizophrenia-like disorders have been associated with the use of cannabis in vulnerable individuals.  The problem with this is that most people don’t know if they are vulnerable, so smoking heavily can potentially have life-altering long-term effects.

If you want to stop using cannabis, there are several methods.  Marijuana Anonymous is an excellent 12-step program and has helped many become abstinent.  Neurofeedback can help with cravings, while simultaneously reducing anxiety and stress.  Some have said that they no longer feel a need to smoke after having 20 to 40 neurofeedback sessions.  Talk therapy can help to determine which treatments are best for you.

Legal marijuana distribution for medicinal purposes and the most recent legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes in Colorado and Washington, make this drug more readily available than ever.  Fear of legal repercussions might have kept some individuals from imbibing in the past, but no longer.  Now, just like alcohol, it will be more vital that individuals who become addicted to marijuana recognize that they must take personal responsibility if they want to steer clear of serious brain disorders that might be caused or exacerbated by long-term use.

Results of a recent study (Zalesky et al, 2012) suggest that long-term cannabis use is hazardous to white matter in the developing brain.  Disturbed brain connectivity in cannabis users may underlie cognitive impairment and vulnerability to psychosis, depression and anxiety disorders (Lim et al., 2002).  The brain is like a big electric circuit, and connectivity is the fundamental way that the brain works.  Cannabis appears to detrimentally affect this connectivity, which means that it seriously harms your brain!

This is also the first study to demonstrate that the age at which regular cannabis use begins is a key factor determining the severity of any white matter alteration.  The studies’ findings also support mounting evidence suggesting a link between adolescent cannabis use and schizophrenia in later life (Rais et al., 2008; Peters et al., 2009; Dekker et al., 2010; Ho et al., 2011; James et al., 2011) as well as with evidence for greater adverse cognitive effects in adolescent cannabis users (Solowij et al., 2011a, 2012).  The results of this study may explain what underlies the memory impairment and other cognitive deficits that are observed in long-term, heavy cannabis users (Solowij et al., 2011b; Solowij and Pesa, 2012).  It is possible that the white matter abnormalities associated with cannabis use could be reversed given a sufficient period of abstinence or functional adaptation.

If you’re dealing with an issue like this, I would be happy to help.  Please reach out by calling my office at 310-314-6933 or sending me a private email.

Effect of Long-term Cannabis Use on Axonal Fibre Connectivity

“Effect of Long-term Cannabis Use on Axonal Fibre Connectivity.” Andrew Zalesky, Nadia Solowij, Murat Yücel, Dan I. Lubman, Michael Takagi, Ian H. Harding, Valentina Lorenzetti, Ruopeng Wang, Karissa Searle, Christos Pantelis, Marc Se Jul 12, 2012 Brain. 2012;135(7):2245-2255.

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