Responsible consumption

Does cannabis harm the brain?

An idea that has been popularized in the collective unconscious for decades is that of the direct damage that marijuana use generates on the brain. But … is this true? 

The arrival of the legalization of its medicinal and recreational use in several countries allowed scientists to question the arguments that supported the theories of brain damage induced by cannabis use.

To the surprise of many, the vast majority of experimental models have failed to replicate the results obtained decades ago and, on the contrary, numerous neuroprotective properties have been discovered in the use of cannabinoids.

This does not mean that Cannabis is a harmless substance for our brain, but it does mean that its damage has been overestimated for many years and that the outlook does not seem so bleak for consumers.

Here I tell you a little about how marijuana can affect the brain and also how it can protect it. 

Negative effects of cannabis use on the brain

Although in the past cognitive impairment secondary to cannabis use was considered scientifically proven, a review of the studies that justified it has shown flaws in their experimental design.

Such is the case of a study in which cannabis was administered to primates to verify the resulting neurological damage, years later it was evidenced that the reported neuronal damage was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning given the disproportionate amount of smoke to which it is exposed the animals.

Similarly, studies that claimed a significant decrease in IQ in cannabis users, it was shown in later reviews, that they ignored key points such as the socioeconomic level of the studied participants.

Even so, it is important to remember that if negative effects of cannabis use have been found in our brain and these depend mainly on three elements:

  • Age
  • The dose
  • Predisposing personal conditions.

Use in adolescence

Neurodevelopment is a process that all living beings go through, which begins before our birth and, in the case of human beings, ends at approximately 20 years of age.

During this process, neural interconnections are created and strengthened that will make us have, in our adulthood, all the skills and motor, social, emotional and intellectual abilities that will allow us to interact appropriately with our environment.

Adolescence is a key period in this process , being a stage in which myelination abounds , a mechanism that serves to optimize the functioning of our neuronal connections in the final phase prior to adulthood.

By coincidence, adolescence is usually the time where many of us are exposed for the first time to the use of psychoactive substances, which could be alcohol, tobacco or in this case, Cannabis. What can intervene with neurodevelopment at a key moment.

At present, various studies suggest that cannabis use at this stage can be counterproductive for the myelination process and therefore neurodevelopment, and can leave irreversible consequences in the functioning of our central nervous system and especially in our brain. 

In addition to this, the use of cannabis in adolescence has been associated with an increased risk of dependence , structural alterations of our brain and affection of the emotional area .    

The magnitude of the damage that marijuana use can cause in adolescence is dependent on the dose and therefore proportional to the magnitude and frequency of its use.

So if you are one of the millions of people who used cannabis in their teens, don’t worry, your brain is going to be fine!

Fortunately, our nervous system has multiple resources to recover from the damage to which it is subjected.

Now, if the person reading this is a teenager or the father of a teenager starting their use, I recommend that you think twice before deciding to continue with it, waiting a few years could be ideal to reach the maximum potential of your brain and who knows, we could have the new Albert Einstein among us 🙂

For more information you can visit our entry on  consumption in adolescence

Chronic use

Chronic cannabis use has been associated with transient cognitive impairment , especially in the performance of executive functions that allow us to perform complex tasks. 

Fortunately, these studies have shown that, unlike what happens in adolescence, the changes are reversible if we abandon consumption , managing to regain our neurological abilities. 

It is worth noting that the studies that find this relationship have not been conclusive in finding clarity of permanent damage due to the neurological toxic effect of cannabinoids, so these cognitive alterations could be related to an abusive use of cannabis , in which the person does not achieve an adequate execution of the tasks due to being under the effect of the substance or due to the consequences of their state of dependence. 

If you want to know more about dependence or learn tips to reduce your cannabis use, you can click on the links. 

Association with Mental Illnesses:

A tool frequently used by politicians, parliamentarians and public figures who advocate against the legalization of cannabis, is its alleged direct relationship with the development of mental illnesses, mainly schizophrenia . But today it can be said that there is NO scientific evidence that indicates that marijuana is the cause of this disease .

It is not surprising that if we search the internet we will find lots of pages that state that marijuana use is a risk factor for mental illness, but these statements wrongly simplify the findings of various studies carried out over years on the links between cannabis and psychiatric disorders.

These studies do not speak of causality of schizophrenia due to the use of cannabis , but rather of a greater number of people with schizophrenia in the groups of users compared to the groups of non-users.

But isn’t that the same? I tell you that it is not, since that statement ignores the fact that people who suffer from psychiatric diseases have a greater tendency than healthy people to consume psychoactive substances.

This happens as a self-medication process where the patient seeks to alleviate the symptoms of their disease with this type of substance. And they don’t just do it with cannabis, but with all kinds of psychoactive substances.

A fact that is worth noting is that those people who suffer from psychiatric disorders or have a genetic predisposition to them, may present their first seizures or exacerbations of their diseases with the use of psychoactive substances, so they should NOT consume cannabis, alcohol , hallucinogenic or stimulant drugs.

Positive effects of cannabis use on the brain

With the rise of medicinal cannabis, multiple studies have sought to extrapolate the therapeutic properties of cannabinoids to all systems of the human body, among them the neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids for our brain. 

This does not mean that smoking marijuana will protect your brain against diseases, but yes, properties have been discovered in the molecules of the cannabis plant that can prevent neurodegenerative diseases, stimulate neuronal regeneration and improve the outcome of patients with injuries. in the brain.

Cannabis in alcoholism:

One of the studies that caught my attention while I was researching for this post was one that stated that CBD (cannabidiol) could be useful to reduce not only the neurological and liver sequelae of alcohol consumption, but also to reduce alcohol consumption in itself. And although I must admit, that I begin reading with some skepticism, the arguments of the article managed to surprise me.

In this they affirmed that, through several studies in rodents, they had managed to find changes in the patterns of alcohol consumption with the administration of CBD.

  • Decreased motivation, relapse and total alcohol consumption , associated with the intervention of CBD in the reward system of rodents. These in turn decreased their anxiety and impulsivity associated with consumption.
  • Decreased development of fatty liver and liver fibrosis , conditions that precede cirrhosis. This was achieved by reducing the accumulation of fat molecules in the liver, modulating the inflammatory response and producing the death of activated cells that predispose these pathologies.
  • Decrease in neuronal damage caused by alcoholism, due to its antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties.

These studies, while promising, have been conducted only in animal models, so its use in humans is still a subject of study, but the benefits that CBD offers for the millions of people and families who are victims of alcoholism are encouraging.

Cannabis and aging:

Although one of the most commonly reported unwanted effects during the use of cannabis, and especially strains with high THC content, is short-term memory deficits , recent studies raise specific circumstances in which THC could be beneficial for the patient. brain and memory.

These studies have shown that giving low doses of THC chronically in elderly animals can achieve:

  • Increased production of neurons in the hippocampus (area related to learning, short and long-term memory)
  • Decrease in neurodegenerative processes associated with Alzheimer’s
  • Protection against cognitive damage secondary to inflammatory processes 
  • Improved memory and cognitive functions 

Interestingly, these effects were only achieved if they were administered in elderly animal models and in considerably low doses. When chronically experimenting with higher doses or younger animals, regardless of the doses, the results were opposite, generating alterations in cognitive functionality and even inducing neurodegeneration of the hippocampus.

Cannabis in ischemic brain lesions

The ischaemia is defined as the temporary or permanent reduction of blood flow in a tissue, which affect to decrease the oxygen supply, nutrient supply and disposal of metabolic products.

A recently studied property of CBD is its properties to decrease neuronal damage in animal models after depriving selected areas of the brain of oxygen and glucose.

The tissues subjected to ischemia had less cell death and greater regeneration in the group to which CBD was administered than to the control, because inflammation decreased and the energy utilization of the surviving cells improved.

These properties, although until now they have only been tested in animals, promise a usefulness in patients who suffer head trauma or even cerebrovascular accidents , both frequent causes of disability and mortality worldwide.

We hope that in this post you have learned what are the risks that cannabis can generate to your brain and the behaviors that make these risks present. As well as some promising advances in its neuroprotective properties.

It is important to highlight the importance of good communication with your children, family and friends about the damage that cannabis can cause if we start using it at an early age, as well as the importance of avoiding the use of marijuana as much as possible if we suffer from any disease mental health or we have a family history.

Finally, I want to remind you of the importance of responsible consumption, in which we try to use cannabis from self-cultivation, we prefer vaporization over methods that require combustion, we avoid the consumption of cannabis or extracts with a high THC content and we promote the use of microdoses .

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