Under the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance. Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse and currently do not have any accepted medical use. Despite this fact, as of August 2022, marijuana has been legalized for medical use in 38 states and for recreational purposes in 19 states. As the laws change, so do people’s perceptions of the drug. If this drug is legal, how could it be harmful or addictive? Unfortunately, marijuana can be both harmful and addictive when used in excess.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana comes from the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants. Marijuana is smoked by rolling it into cigarettes, putting it in a pipe, or adding it to partially filled cigars. Marijuana can also be brewed as tea, vaped, or mixed into foods and eaten. The drug has many names, such as grass, pot, weed, bud, hash, Mary Jane, and herb. Cannabis plants contain delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive chemical and the most studied chemical in marijuana. Another highly studied chemical in marijuana is cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabidiol has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties but no psychoactive effects.
The Effects of THC
THC is a mind-altering substance that produces the euphoric feeling the person gets when using marijuana. In addition to feeling high, users feel very relaxed. They have an altered sense of time, changes in mood, and altered senses, such as hearing sounds louder, seeing lights brighter, or seeing colors more intensely. They may have difficulty thinking or solving problems.
Additional effects of THC may include:
- Impaired memory
- Increased appetite
- Uncontrolled laughter
- Impaired body movement
- Hallucinations or delusions when used in high doses
- Psychosis when high-potency marijuana is used regularly
How Does Marijuana Affect The Brain?
Prolonged use of marijuana can cause irreversible brain damage similar to the damage caused by the long-term use of other substances such as heroin, meth, and alcohol. Like other substances, components of this drug attach themselves to brain receptors known as Cannabinoid receptor type 1 or CB1. These receptors are attached to nerves in the brain that control memory, mood, pain regulation, and appetite.
The body naturally produces endocannabinoids, a compound similar to the chemical compounds in this weed. Endocannabinoids help regulate many processes in the body, such as cognition, memory, learning, sleep, and pain control. It is essential that the endocannabinoids function properly for healthy prenatal brain development and brain maturation during adolescence. However, when both endocannabinoids and the THC in marijuana attach to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, the normal actions of the endocannabinoids are disrupted.
Marijuana and Brain Function
- Researchers believe adolescents are the most susceptible to lasting brain function damage caused by using marijuana. Since the human brain does not fully develop until a person is in their early to mid-20s, it is sensitive to damage caused by drugs. As neurodevelopment takes place, the frontal cortex is one of the last areas of the brain to become fully developed. The frontal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for decision-making, planning, judgment, and personality.
- Researchers found a link between long-term marijuana use and a decline in IQ. The decline in neuropsychological functioning equals about six IQ points.
- Teens have an immature endocannabinoid system, which means their brains cannot respond correctly to the physiological effects of THC. The endocannabinoid system is essential in neurodevelopment, cognition, emotional control, and stress response. It also helps other neurotransmitter systems operate smoothly.
- Studies show heavy marijuana users sustain damage to the white matter of their brains. White matter helps the brain’s neurons communicate with one another. People with changes to their white matter were more impulsive and had difficulty with abstract thinking, planning, and inhibition of inappropriate responses.
- Scores on verbal memory tests declined.
- Children with an average age of nine whose mothers used marijuana while pregnant had poorer cognitive functions and more psychological problems than children whose mothers did not use marijuana during pregnancy.
- Studies show people who used marijuana heavily during adolescence and early adulthood generally had poorer life outcomes. They had higher dropout rates, poor school performance, greater unemployment, increased welfare dependence, and were less satisfied with their life.
Do You Need Help?
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to marijuana, alcohol, or another drug, help is available. At English Mountain Recovery, located in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, professional medical and therapeutic staff can help you reclaim your life. Our caring, supportive team will use a combination of individual and group therapy, complementary therapies, psycho-education, relapse prevention, and a 12-Step curriculum to help clients achieve long-term sobriety.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.