Most people know that smoking marijuana can make you feel spaced out or trigger the need for some munchies, but it also can have some other, lesser obvious consequences on your mind as well. There are a number of shocking ways weed can affect you and your brain, and these changes might not be side effects you have heard before. Although marijuana can have medical benefits, it's also important to be aware of the different ways it can impact your brain.
"Cannabis contains chemicals called cannabinoids that act on receptors in the brain that affect pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, appetite, and coordination," Dr. Larissa Mooney, Medical Director at CAST Centers, tells Bustle. "There are also naturally-occurring cannabinoids in the brain called endocannabinoids that act on the same receptors. The primary active chemical responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis (such as pleasure, euphoria, relaxation or in some cases anxiety, panic or paranoia) is THC — tetrahydrocannabadiol."
Although THC can be responsible for these changes in your body, there are also some cognitive risks as well, and these can include everything from memory loss to risk of psychosis. Here are six shocking ways that weed can have a lasting effect on your brain, according to experts.
Smoking weed can impair memory, attention, and concentration. "For example, impairment in memory occurs because cannabis alters information processing in the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain responsible for memory formation," says Dr. Mooney. Unfortunately, marijuana’s impact to the brain is cumulative, and THC has been found to influence structures associated with concentration, memory, response time, and thought.
"Daily cannabis use can disrupt reward circuity, making cannabis use even more desirable to users," Dr. Aimee Chiligiris, PsyD tells Bustle. "This may interrupt other previous seeking of pleasurable experiences, such as relationships, hobbies, and academics." Research out of University of California, Los Angeles found that smokers of an average of 12 years showed greater activity in the brain's reward system when they saw objects used for smoking marijuana than when they were shown photos of objects that are considered "natural rewards," like fruit.
Although many people smoke marijuana to improve their anxiety and depression, it can actually make these issues worse for some people. "Marijuana use and withdrawal may induce anxious and depressive symptoms, and it can also increase symptoms of underlying mental health concerns," says Dr. Chiligiris. "Recent research demonstrates that long-term use can also impair structures that help to regulate difficult emotions."
Marijuana use can cause or exacerbate symptoms of psychosis, which may include paranoia or hallucinations. "Individuals with certain genetic vulnerabilities may be at greater risk to developing psychosis with cannabis use," says Dr. Chiligiris. "With higher potency THC available, including edibles, individuals may be at risk for more significant or earlier onset of mental health concerns such as psychosis." While this may not be the case for everyone, it is something to consider.
"Some research suggests that heavy cannabis [use] as a teen may lead to a reduction of IQ points that may not fully return in adulthood," says Dr. Chiligiris. One study out of New Zealand found that people who had started smoking weed at least four times a week when they were teens experienced an average IQ drop of 8 points by the time they reached mid-adulthood.
THC can increase random neural activity in the brain, also known as "neural noise." Researchers suspect that the psychosis-like symptoms that people may experience after smoking weed can be attributed to this neural activity. This can result in anything from disorganized thoughts to alterations in your perceptions of reality. Neural noise can also interfere with other signals that transmit information in the brain.
Not all effects of smoking weed can be negative, but these are some of the possible effects marijuana can have on the brain.