How does marijuana affect your brain?

By Brian Lemay No comments

Marijuana Weed Pot Kush Herb Grass? I don’t know. Ganja The devil’s lettuce Cannibis or THC? Mary Jane Loud I know there’s some CBD things now that… I don’t know what it stands for, but That’s all I can think of. Blunt Bongs That’s not…that’s not weed. Whatever name you give it, cannabis is the most commonly used “illicit” drug in the United States. And it has a pretty prevalent place in our
society, popping up in our media and on the news. Marijuana has long been considered a gateway drug gateway drug gateway drug Marijuana is a dangerous gateway drug. leading to the use of other, more addictive,
and more dangerous substances. But what does marijuana actually do to to
the human brain? …and body? And is it as dangerous as D.A.R.E. always
led us to believe? This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions? Well, marijuana has been legalized in several
states. And it’s legal for medical use in several
others. So it’s becoming more mainstream. In fact, it’s legal right here in California. So we went to a local cannabis dispensary
to talk to some experts in the field. So my name is Shelby. I am the assistant marketing director here
at Torrey Holistics. Here at Torrey Holistics, we really try to
do a lot of education because that’s ultimately where we are going to break down the stigma
where people are going to realize the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Torrey Holistics opened as a medical dispensary
in 2015. We were the first in the state to get our
recreational retail license, but we still serve medical and recreational alike. Marijuana use in the U.S. has a pretty interesting
history. Early white colonists brought cannabis to
North America to cultivate as hemp, which was used for making rope, clothing, and paper
products. During the 1800s, it became popular as a medicinal
treatment, and “hashish houses” flourished. Until 1906 when the Food and Drug Act required
labels on anything containing cannabis. Then, as Mexican immigrants began arriving
in the U.S. following the Mexican Civil War, they brought recreational marijuana with them. Racist anti-immigration sentiment rapidly
led to fear of the “Marijuana Menace”. In the 1930’s, a string of very dubious
studies linked marijuana use to violence and crime. And states began to outlaw the narcotic. When Harry Anslinger, the Chief of the Federal
Bureau of Narcotics was appointed, they were going through a budget cut because of the
Great Depression. So to keep his title and keep funding for
the department, they actually kind of created this whole scare around cannabis. He started referring to it as “marijuana”
because he knew that everybody was already consuming cannabis. It was in tinctures, you could buy at a local
pharmacy. And so the senators who were voting on this
prohibition bill didn’t realize that marijuana was the same thing as cannabis. So they effectively voted to ban the very
substance that they were using for their own medical needs. Following the release of the famous film “Reefer
Madness” in 1936, the federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act, effectively
outlawing cannabis except in specific medical and industrial cases. For decades, despite new and better research
indicating that marijuana isn’t associated with violent crime and debauchery, marijuana
use was increasingly restricted. And the punishments for its possession and
use became more and more harsh. Anslinger first pushed it as, like, you know,
like you’re going to be very lustful and you’re going to do crazy things, it’s a gateway drug. And then he actually changed his rhetoric
later in the century to be, like, cannabis as a lazy stoner drug. Like, you don’t get anything done, you’re
not contributing to society at all. This eventually led to all kinds of government
policies, like mandatory minimum sentences, a three-strikes policy, and President George
Bush’s War on Drugs. These have had lasting and damaging effects
on many U.S. citizens and the public’s perception of marijuana. You can learn more about the history of these
laws and their effects on our country’s citizens by checking out the links in the
description below. But then in 1996, that started to change. Medical marijuana was legalized in the state
of California. And now, almost twenty years later, cannabis
has a pretty prevalent place in our society. Public perceptions and acceptance of cannabis
has definitely improved in the last several years. Especially in light of the opioid epidemic,
people are much more receptive to a lot of the research and findings coming out. So it might seem kind of weird that we actually
don’t know very much about the risks or benefits of marijuana. See, even though it’s becoming legal in
more and more states for recreational and medical use, cannabis is still outlawed by
the federal government, so it’s heavily regulated and restricted. That means that it’s difficult for scientists
and doctors to get marijuana to actually use in their research. And without that research, it can be hard
to say much about the possible dangers or benefits of using the drug. So what do we know? When you smoke a joint and get that high feeling,
what’s happening in your brain? Even that’s not so simple. Cannabis has two major chemical components. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD. Plus smaller amounts of a whole bunch of other
cannabinoid compounds. These molecules act on what’s called the
endocannabinoid system in the brain by binding to cannabinoid 1 and 2 receptors. These receptors were actually named after
cannabis, because they were identified by scientists trying to understand how the drug
works. Both kinds of receptors are found throughout
the body, but CB1 receptors are the most common in the brain, found at the end terminals of
neurons. The brain produces endocannabinoid compounds,
which bind to and activate CB1 receptors. Cannabinoid receptors are g-protein-coupled
receptors, so when they’re activated, it kicks off a cascade inside the cell that has
some effect downstream. In this case, that means modulating the signaling
at the synapse. The molecular biology of this is actually
really really complicated, but in general, activating CB1 receptors has an inhibitory
effect on the release of a variety of neurotransmitters including dopamine, GABA, glutamate, noradrenaline,
serotonin, and acetylcholine. Our best understanding of the endocannabinoid
system is that it plays an important role in regulating other systems in the brain and
throughout the body. In the brain, endocannabinoid signaling plays
a role in memory, cognition, pain perception, and motor movements. THC is considered a psychoactive compound,
meaning that it affects perception, cognition, or behavior. It binds to CB1 receptors, activating the
endocannabinoid system, and inducing the feelings of relaxation and euphoria that are commonly
associated with cannabis use. As well as impairments in spatial and verbal
memory. Your license, where is your license? My license. It’s on the bumper man, right back there,
man. No, I mean your driver’s license. Oh. Oh yeah, yeah, I’ve got my driver’s license,
man. Users of marijuana often report enhanced introspection,
and sometimes feelings of anxiety or paranoia. Cannabis use can also lead to “the munchies”. Feeling like you’re hungry. Thought to be a result of the way THC is processed
by the liver. CBD, on the other hand, is not a psychoactive
compound. It has the exact same chemical formula as
THC, but with a slightly different chemical structure. This means that it binds to the endocannabinoid
system differently, and doesn’t induce those psychoactive effects. But it’s being explored for treating a variety
of conditions, and is believed to be anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen. Most notably, it’s used to help prevent
seizures in very severe types of epilepsy. And it’s being explored for use in treating
migraines and anxiety. Speaking anecdotally, I have friends who swear
by CBD for treating their migraines. So CBD has become more popular in research. And it’s showing that it’s a very powerful
anylgesic, very powerful anti-inflammatory agent, and you don’t need to experience any
psychoactivity with it. So now you can consume cannabis without that
psychoactivity that some people are kind of put off by. You can have the medicinal benefits alone. One thing I always like to say everywhere
is that if you ever find yourself too high, say you took an edible that you’re just feeling
overwhelmed with, have some CBD on-hand. CBD will bring you down from that high. The products that are available for medical
and recreational use contain different varieties of cannabis that have different effects. Some have higher levels of THC or CBD, and
different “strains” are reported to have different psychoactive effects. Like how people say that indica is “relaxing”
while sativa is “stimulating”. The difference between different strains like
indica and sativa involves something called the “entourage effect”, which we use very affectionately in this industry. It has to do with the over 113 different cannabinoids
and terpenes in the cannabis plant. They play on each other in very unique ways. If you think about how many different sorts
of combinations those cannabinoids have, all of these different regulatory compounds are working with each other to create a specific effect. How long the sensation lasts depends mostly
on how the cannabis is consumed. If it’s smoked, it usually takes under three
hours for the sensations to fade. But oral or edible doses can last much longer,
with some of the effects lasting up to 24 hours. The research on the therapeutic benefits of
cannabis use are so far pretty optimistic. Though the studies are still plagued by small
group sizes and restrictions on marijuana use. The long-term effects and risks of cannabis
use also depend on how it’s used. Some risks are obvious. Like if you smoke cannabis, you’re at an
increased risk of problems like chronic cough, bronchitis, a weakened immune system, and
lung cancer. Unlike a number of other drugs, like alcohol
or opioids, cannabis is not physically addictive. That means that if you stop smoking weed cold
turkey, you might feel irritable, anxious, and have trouble sleeping, but it won’t
make you sick. Or…kill you. It’s also thought to be pretty much impossible
to fatally overdose on cannabis. Last year, the National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism stated that 90,000 people died from alcohol-related causes. Whereas, with cannabis, there’s never been
a reported incident of an overdose. So yes, it’s much safer in that sense. Consuming an very large amount can lead to
extremely unpleasant consequences, like psychotic episodes, but it won’t directly cause death. But, that doesn’t mean that using marijuana
doesn’t come with other kinds of risks. Or that using marijuana can’t have negative
effects on other aspects of your life, like any kind of drug or addiction. Using marijuana during pregnancy is believed
to carry risks like a low birth weight and possibly other developmental problems. Though it’s difficult to say if these
effects are definitely a result of marijuana use or other external factors. If a person starts using marijuana as a teenager,
before their brain has finished growing and developing, it can have long-term effects
on cognition and memory. Researchers have done small studies using
MRI scans to look at brain structure in adults in their 20’s with people who are diagnosed
with a cannabis use disorder… basically meaning that they use a lot of weed,
and it has negative effects on their lives… and people who don’t use cannabis at all,
and found that teenagers who smoked pot daily had abnormally-shaped hippocampi and did worse
on long-term memory tasks compared to non-users. Some research has found that heavy cannabis
use starting during adolescence can have long-term effects on dopamine signaling in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that plays important
roles in reward and motivation as well as movement control. Scientists think that this is likely due to
heavy marijuana use interrupting normal brain development, resulting in problems with the
wiring and leading to problems down the line. And in general, people who use a lot of weed
have issues with verbal memory and cognitive tasks. Pretty much all of this research has been
done in people who use a lot of cannabis. Like, every single day, for extended periods
of time. So far, we don’t know much about the possible
risks of just occasional usage, like in social settings or on the odd weekend. Our view of cannabis use at Torrey Holistics
is that moderation is key. With anything. You drink too much coffee, you’re going to
get a stomach ache. If you use too much cannabis, you could have
memory impairment. But it all comes down to just consuming responsibly. In places where marijuana is legal, it’s
generally pretty easy to access. There are storefront dispensaries where you
can talk to “bud tenders” and shop for your favorite varieties. Or online sites that allow you to order products
for delivery to your front door. But even where it’s legal, there are some
restrictions. It’s highly taxed, for one thing, and you
must be over 21 to purchase it recreationally, or over 18 to get a medical marijuana card. Cannabis in California, at least, is more
regulated than the food we’re eating. If it’s grown on a farm, maybe a mile down
the street from another farm that uses pesticides, the labs will pick up on that and it won’t
be able to be sold. So the cannabis you’re consuming, as long
as it’s from a legal, licensed dispensary, is very very safe. And while some surveys indicate that more
than half of all Americans have tried cannabis at some point in their lives, around 163 million people, only 4 million people would classify as having
a cannabis use disorder, a rate of about 3%. In contrast, about 5-6% of Americans who try
alcohol during their lifetime will become addicted. This could be because it’s just generally
much easier to access alcohol than it is to get weed. And we might see those numbers changing if
marijuana continues to become more mainstream in the U.S. And remember how marijuana is considered a
“gateway drug”? While it’s true that marijuana users are
more likely to abuse alcohol and nicotine than non-users, the majority of people who
use marijuana will never go on to use “harder” substances, like opiods. And even when marijuana users do use harder
drugs, it’s at the same rate as people who use other already-legal drugs, like alcohol
and nicotine. So it’s not an effect of cannabis, so much
as it’s an effect of any drug that affects the reward systems of the brain. There’s a misconception that cannabis is a
gateway drug. And they’re finding now that it’s actually
an exit drug. It can be very helpful, actually, in people
struggling with addictions. I see the cannabis industry fulfilling the
need for alternative forms of pain management. With the opioid epidemic, I think that a lot
of people are seeking alternative forms of relief. And they’re finding that with cannabis. Ultimately, we know that cannabis is a very
complicated plant with complex chemical components. And we don’t fully understand its effects
on the human brain or the long-term risks or benefits of its use. Scientists are hard at working on studying
this topic, trying to better understand the chemistry and neuroscience of cannabis as
it continues to be legalized in more states and becomes more popular nationwide. I’m so excited about the research coming out. Like I was saying, there’s so much to be done. Over 113 different cannabinoids that we’ve
only just touched on. So I think that the findings are just going
to continue to show the medicinal qualities of cannabis. Because it’s still federally outlawed, there
are a lot of complicating factors in its use and study. Like it might be legal to use cannabis in
your state, but you could still lose your job if your employer has a zero-tolerance
policy. One issue that I think about a lot is the
fact that we don’t really have the marijuana equivalent of a breathalyzer to quickly determine if someone is currently under the influence of cannabis or not. That means that unless a police officer actually
sees a person using weed, it’s really difficult to know if someone is committing a DUI. Because a person might test positive for cannabis
even many hours and days after its use. At any rate, it seems likely that marijuana
is at least as “okay” as any other currently legal substance available to the public. That whole “reefer madness” thing was
just propaganda. We must work untiringly so that our children
are obliged to learn the truth. Because it is only through knowledge that
we can safely protect them. So if you live in a place where marijuana
has been legalized, enjoy responsibly. Do you have strong feelings about marijuana
legalization or its use? What concerns do you have as it becomes more
prevalent in our society? Or what benefits do you think it might offer? Let us know in the comments below! Thanks for watching this episode of Neuro
Transmissions and a huge thank you to Shelby and Dr. Beth at Torrey Holistics for their
help with this video. Until our next transmission, I’m Alie Astrocyte. Over and out.

Leave a Reply