How Does Marijuana Affect the Brain and Body?
Most people know that marijuana is heavily used in the United States. In fact, statistics point to the drug being the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the country. However, awareness of the motives behind that usage is generally lesser known. That’s why researchers in recent years have conducted a variety of studies to explore how and why marijuana users consume the drug.
What one study found was that nearly 40% of adult users consumed the drug purely for recreational purposes, while 33% used it for recreational and medical use, and only 29% used it solely for medical use. Digging deeper and investigating younger users, researchers found the top reasons adolescents entering college used marijuana were curiosity and experimentation, fun/enjoyment, and peer acceptance.
Regardless of the age of the user or their reasons for partaking in the activity, marijuana consumption can have dire consequences on the user’s physical and mental health. Read on to learn how marijuana can affect both the brain and body.
Effects of Marijuana and How it Works
To better recognize the dangers of marijuana in the brain and body, it’s helpful to understand the effects the drug can have and how and why those effects occur. The most common (and desired) effect of marijuana use is euphoria or a sense of relaxation. Besides getting high, some people may perceive things like colors, sounds, or time at a heightened level when using the drug. Others, particularly those involved with medical marijuana, use it for pain or anxiety relief.
It’s also important to point out that not every user has the same experience with marijuana. While one user might feel relaxed, another using the same dose of marijuana might feel paranoid or anxious. The main reason marijuana can have those effects is the psychoactive properties of its chief ingredient: Tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. When marijuana is consumed, THC binds to receptors found throughout the brain and body.
How Marijuana Affects the Brain
Because marijuana is a psychoactive drug, it’s easy to comprehend the significant impact it can have on the brain.
Starting with some of the most prevalent outcomes, marijuana can hurt your senses and judgment, lower your inhibitions, and cloud your ability to make good decisions. Unfortunately, that can cause physical harm because of distorted motor skills that make you a trip hazard or impair your ability to drive.
Marijuana can negatively affect the user’s balance, coordination, and ability to respond to peril quickly. Reports also show that marijuana and alcohol are often used together, which further increases the chances of making a poor decision. When large doses of marijuana are consumed, the psychoactive component of THC can even cause hallucinations or delusions, and some research shows a connection between marijuana use and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Over the long term, some studies have shown that continued marijuana use can cause a decline in IQ, especially if usage started during adolescence. In addition, prolonged use may intensify the age-related loss of neurons in the hippocampus, thus decreasing the person’s ability to learn or retain new information.
But perhaps the most damaging brain-related effect of marijuana use is the likelihood of addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30% of marijuana users have some degree of marijuana use disorder. Worse, someone who begins using the drug before the age of 18 is up to seven times more likely to ultimately develop a marijuana use disorder. As with any drug dependency, marijuana addiction can damage personal and professional relationships and wreak havoc on one’s ability to live a productive, healthy life.
How Marijuana Affects the Body
The effects of marijuana on the body are wide-reaching and can be severe. For example, users who smoke marijuana are subject to several respiratory conditions. Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs and bronchial passages in the same way tobacco does and can lead to a phlegmy cough, burning mouth or throat, and even a heightened risk of bronchitis. Further, marijuana can worsen existing respiratory conditions like asthma or cystic fibrosis.
Smoking marijuana can cause one’s heart rate to spike, generating a demand for increased oxygen, which adds continued strain on the body and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Often, the blood vessels of marijuana users will expand — an occurrence that explains why so many marijuana users appear to have bloodshot eyes. People who consistently use marijuana may find that they get sick easier or more often than others who don’t. That’s because the THC found in marijuana can weaken or suppress the body’s immune system, making the person more susceptible to bodily infections.
Marijuana also has a heavy influence on appetite and digestion. Active users find the drug may increase their appetite, which often leads to unhealthy weight gain, especially when a sedentary lifestyle is involved. And while there’s some evidence to believe THC can ease nausea and vomiting, the inverse can also be true, with long-term and heavy use also triggering those same symptoms.
Women who are pregnant are advised to abstain from using marijuana as the child may be born underweight and experience a variety of developmental delays.
Of course, the best course of action for anyone using marijuana without the direction of a physician is to quit. Yet, even quitting can cause its own physical reaction — a process known as withdrawal. Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include nausea, vomiting, sweating, and body aches, along with bouts of anger, restlessness, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Midwest Recovery Centers Can Help Users Overcome Marijuana Addiction
We provide cost-effective, quality treatment focused on marijuana addiction to help users get back to living productive, healthy lives. But we always recommend anyone in the throes of addiction spend time in our residential detoxification center to begin the road to recovery. This ensures that the person has access to real-time medical care and counsel on safely navigating the symptoms of withdrawal. Once detox is complete, we help users understand the root of the problems that drove them to partake in marijuana use and work with them to develop long-term solutions for success.
If you or a loved one is worried about the impact of marijuana on the brain and body, Midwest Recovery Centers can help. Contact us today.
Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., CADC
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.