Does Cannabis (Marijuana) Affect the Brain?
YES! It is a well known fact. This meta-analysis review of over seven thousand people is more than enough evidence that it is obviously damaging to the brain. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Doctor of Clinical Psychology student, I study a variety of things that affect the brain. My expertise is holistic psychology, meaning studying natural ways we can support brain health.
Preserving and caring for our brain health is one of the most important things we can do because if everything else was taken completely from us, our mind would be the one thing that we would have left to help us function and survive.
This is a drastic view to look at but I am often reminded of the holocaust survivor who said that even though they took everything from her, family, home, and her life, the one thing they could not take was her mind. She survived through using the ability of her brain to function and cope.
Now let’s talk about Cannabis. This gets to be such a contentious subject nowadays because of the legalization of it and the wide range of use. It is now the most frequently used drug in the world and has basically replaced what cigarette smoking used to be in society. So people who enjoy their cannabis use recreationally may get defensive, but evidence shows it is unhealthy on brain cells so let's just look at the facts when making decisions to put substances like these in our bodies. Science has proved over and over again the dangers of cigarette smoking, which are now widely accepted and admitted, research finds damaging effects from the THC in cannabis that need to be acknowledged so one is fully aware what they are doing to their body.
Cannabis use has been linked to various cognitive and behavioral effects in the brain, especially that of affecting memory. Regular use not only affects the function of the brain but also the structure in the brain regions involved in memory processing. I am going to review a research article with you where I found of substantial information.
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and is thought to be the main culprit in the negative effects on the brain and has shown to impair short-term and long-term memory as well as alter neural substrates underlying learning and memory. Cannabis also is a known risk factor of onset of a symptoms in psychotic mental health disorders.
The meta-analysis in this research was comprised of 7697 healthy subjects and they found that cannabis use significantly impaired memory compared to non-users of the drug. Patients who already have a psychotic disorder diagnosis had less memory impairment than those using cannabis that were healthy individuals. Cannabinoids are seen to prevent hippocampal long-term neuronal pathway communication, meaning communication to the memory which is stored in the hippocampus.
I know many of us deal with clients or family members who use marijuana regularly, so these facts are good to discuss and take into consideration when a drug like this is becoming legalized and widely accepted. Just because society legalizes and widely accepts something, doesn't make it healthy for us.
I understand many are using cannabis for neurological concerns and just like with any drug, the side effects need to be weighed out against the treatment needed. However for those who turn to cannabis for a coping mechanism for anxiety, depression, anger or other difficulties they are dealing with emotionally in life, research is showing that cannabis use actually increases the risk for higher levels of depression compared to non-users and lower levels of functioning, so marijuana can be contraindicated for what you are trying to cope with in the first place and can increase your depression and lower your functioning skills to cope.
As far as coping emotionally, there are other ways through therapy, group counseling, exercise, essential oils, developing positive hobbies, developing creative skills, or getting involved in other positive community groups, which all increase healthy coping skills especially for dealing with things that seem unbearable.
So you still may be asking, "Well, will I really notice a difference in my memory?" and the answer is yes. The more you use cannabis the more it affects the brain and where it affects your brain in memory is going to be noticeable in your day-to-day activities such as remembering items, recalling conversations, slowing verbal and verbal learning memory skills are seen as well as recalling events from the past will be more difficult and forgotten. Longer term use is showing increases in paranoia, a symptom of psychotic disorder. This type of recreational use also affects the families of those who suffer from these symptoms and can create barriers and distance in relationships.
There are many things that can help support memory in the hippocampus naturally, please read here for my article on 3 simple steps to improving memory
with natural healthy compounds like food and essential oils to learn more.
My goal reviewing this research study has been to shed some light on the side effects in the brain from cannabis use as it is something being easily overlooked in society. The fact that this was such a large sample size that was evaluated in the meta-analysis, it holds a lot of weight in the reality of the effects. Bottom line, cannabis use can affect memory, both short and long-term, cognitive functioning, and it can affect levels of depression, anxiety and psychosis symptoms such as paranoia. Teaching and educating on the best methods of taking care of your brain health is my expertise, and bringing you to the knowledge and awareness is the best way to start for making the best choices in your life and in providing the psycho-education for your clients or family.
Reference: The effects of cannabis on memory function in users with and without a psychotic disorder: findings from a combined meta-analysis. Schoeler, Kambeitz, Behlke, Murray, Bhattacharyya; Psychology Medicine (2016) vol. 46, pages 177-186