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What is Marijuana and Its Various Effects on the Brain

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a common term for cannabis that’s derived from the plant Cannabis Sativa. This plant has hundreds of chemicals called cannabinoids, and the two main cannabinoids in the cannabis plant that we have studied are 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, which is CBD. THC has the mind-altering properties and CBD does not. The reason cannabis has an effect on the body is that cannabinoids are neurotransmitters, or chemicals that effect the activities of nerves. And we make our own cannabinoids called the endocannabinoid system. The main function of the cannabinoids is to buffer or slow down the neurons chemical activity. So, if you have a nerve that is excitatory, like the glutamate circuit, the effect of the cannabinoid would be to slow it down. If you have a nerve that is inhibitory, like the GABA circuit, the effect of the cannabinoid would be to speed it up.

So, back to marijuana. CBD is the main source of the therapeutic benefit of cannabis, such as for things like pain management and seizure control. In fact, the FDA just recently approved cannabidiol, as the drug epidiolex, to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy and it is available in the online dispensary Canada in various products like budget buds, pink kush, etc. But the THC is the mind-altering substance that has negative long term effects. But, that’s not present in the CBD drug. So, if you consume the plant, it contains the THC and CBD. And the ratio of those two matters. Cannabis that has a higher percentage of THC has more of the detrimental effects, and what it does to your mind depends on what cannabinoid receptors it hits.

Human Brain and Cannabis

So, let’s dig deep in this. The human brain has various brain structures. These structures are made up of nerves and these nerves have the cannabinoid receptors on them. When you consume marijuana, the THC binds to the CBD-1 receptors in the same way that your natural cannabinoids bind to them. So, let’s take a look at the different effects on the brain. One structure is the nucleus accumbens. It’s responsible for motivation and reward. When THC binds here, you get euphoria. This is the amygdala, which controls your emotional responses and fear. When THC binds here, you get anxiety and paranoia. Another one is hippocampus, which is responsible for memory. When THC binds here, you have problems with short-term memory. The spinal cord, which among other things, receives pain signals. When THC binds here, you feel less pain. Cerebellum (located at the back bottom), which is involved with coordination and balance. When THC binds here, your coordination is impaired. The top part is the hypothalamus, which controls appetite and sexual activity. When THC binds here, you get hungry and have increased sexual desire. This effect is where you can get the medical benefit of increasing appetite in cancer patients.

Two more structures. First is the basil ganglia, which controls your body movement. When THC binds here, you get slowed reaction time. This outside part of your brain is the cortex. It controls a lot of things including perception, executive functions, like planning and impulse control. When THC binds here, you can get perceptual disturbances, like psychotic symptoms.

If marijuana can cause a psychiatric illness

Let’s say the worst-case scenario is you smoke marijuana and the effect lasts for four to six hours, and someone tells you they got you the good stuff. So, you have a really high concentration of THC, such to the effects all the parts of the brain we mentioned. What would this look like? It would look like a person who feels euphoric, yet paranoid, has the munchies, hears voices, stumbles, response slowly to everything, can’t pay attention or remember things. That’s a very unsettling state.

But, it wears off. Those are mental changes from the intoxication of the drug. But, it doesn’t create a long-lasting psychiatric disorder. The exception to this is that marijuana can increase the risk of having a psychotic illness in people who are already prone to developing psychosis. It’s like smoking helps bring out the problem. But, cannabis does not cause Borderline Personality Disorder or any personality disorder. But, here a bad thing it can do in the long term. There have been several studies showing worse consequences for people who start smoking marijuana before age 18. Starting early results in memory impairment and developmental changes such as a lower IQ. There are cognitive effects that include things like decreased problem-solving ability or poor attention. And these problems create a domino effect, where it can hold you back from achievements like graduating from college or working in a competitive field. The adolescent brain is very vulnerable to the effects of THC. So, the younger you start, the worse it is on your brain in the long term. And the long term effect is not creating a psychiatric illness, the long term effect is stunting your brain development in the thinking and memory department. So, beware.

What does CBD do?

But on a good note, CBD can help the pain, seizures, nausea, and weight gain just like dbol. In fact, two synthetic cannabinoid drugs that are FDA approved to treat nausea are Marinol and cesamet. We still don’t have an official use for it in psychiatry. It’s being studied for the treatment of psychosis, actually. Because of its effect on memory, it’s being studied as a treatment to be used in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to help reprogram how people remember the trauma. But, we’re not there yet, as far as having a product the yields the benefits that we want without the negative mental effects.

What’s the deal with medical marijuana?

Some states in the U.S. and several other countries like Canada have legalized the use of cannabis, the plant, the entire plant, for medical purposes, such as pain control, skin disorders, multiple sclerosis, and seizures. Cannabidiol is an extract of the plant has many useful purposes, as we have mentioned. It’s the THC component, that’s the wild card here. So, if you’re able to get marijuana Canada, the plant, that you can smoke, with a prescription, if you’re in a state where you can get that, the issue is that there are so many different manufacturers and growers of it, you can’t control for how much of the THC part that you’re going to get. And that’s how you can get the variable effects of medical marijuana.

 

Written by Nat Sauteed

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