Cannabis has been around for thousands of years and has been used for a wide variety of reasons.
Today it is the most used psychotropic drug in the world even though it is still considered illegal in many countries and states.
Due to its increasing popularity, there is real concern over the fact that we do not have concrete knowledge as to how cannabis can affect our minds and bodies in the short and long term.
There have been studies performed here and there that speak to the possible short term and long-term effects, but larger studies are needed and that won’t happen on a bigger scale until marijuana is taken off the schedule 1 list of drugs.
There is currently widespread debate about the impact that moderate to heavy marijuana use has on the developing brain and cognitive function.
What is cannabis and how does it work?
Cannabis is a term used to refer to a group of three plants with psychoactive properties known as Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis ruderalis. When the flower of these plants is harvested and dried you have marijuana or weed.
Cannabis is usually consumed for its relaxing and calming effects. However, it can also be prescribed to help with a range of medical conditions like chronic pain, glaucoma, poor appetite, and anxiety.
Two components of Cannabis are CBD and THC, and both have been used to treat anxiety.
THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis and is responsible for giving the high effect that most people think of when they think of cannabis or weed.
CBD is a cannabinoid that is not intoxicating and non-euphoric. It is most used medicinally to help reduce inflammation, pain, nausea, migraines, seizures, and anxiety.
You can find cannabis products that contain both CBD and THC separately or mixed.
What is cognition?
Cognition is a term referring to the mental processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension.
The connection between cannabis and cognition
As with any drug, when you consume large amounts over a long period of time you will create a dependence to it which could also result in psychological changes.
The severity of the impairment is linked to the dose size, familiarity with THC, and tolerance.
Short Term Effects
Short term effects are short lived symptoms that will go away when the person is no longer high.
Those effects include:
- Lack of Focus
- Short-term memory loss
- Difficulty remembering things
- Abstract thinking
- Inability to make good decisions
- Inability to perceive distances
Long Term Effects
Long term effects are symptoms that are felt when a person is no longer high and is usually brought on by chronic heavy use over a long period of time.
Usually when high, people experience temporary memory loss as an effect of the high. However, as soon as the high wears off there is no more memory issues.
Some highly contested evidence has shown that long term use may cause permanent memory problems that is felt even when not high. However, there have been other studies that have shown no memory issues.
There have also been reports of people suffering with memory issues while abstaining from the drug after heavy daily use. Those effects eventually subsided, and their memory normalized over time.
Onset of Psychosis & Schizophrenia
Some researchers believe that heavy use of marijuana may trigger psychosis or schizophrenia in people who were already at risk for developing those illnesses.
A 2011 study showed similarities in brain waves between people who are currently suffering through a psychosis and someone who is currently high on marijuana.
Currently, there is no definitive evidence that can say there is a direct relationship between smoking pot and developing schizophrenia.
Unhappy with Life
In a study focusing on how marijuana users felt about their career, social life, and their physical and mental health, 66-90 percent reported more negative effects than positive.
The lower level of satisfaction seemed to be more evident with heavy users. Which is a similar outcome to those heavy users who seek temporary relief with illicit substances but have an overall destructive effect in the long term.
Lack of Motivation
A study has shown that chronic heavy use of marijuana that leads to a dependence to it may go on to experience amotivationl syndrome, which is a lack of desire to do the basic things to survive in life.
It is important to note that most reports of amotivational syndrome eventually go away the longer they abstain from overusing marijuana.
They estimated through the study that it takes about 90 days for an individual to return to their normal level of motivation.
A study has found that frequent marijuana use during adolescence could alter the prefrontal cortex area of the brain in a way that is detrimental to overall functionality, leading teens into a life of poor judgement, riskier behavior and impulsive decision making.
Another small study on adults found that chronic heavy smokers of marijuana weren’t as able to balance rewards vs. punishment which in turn causes the user to make poor decisions and have bad judgement.
Like anything done in excess, your body and mind can become dependent on it.
For individuals chasing the high and smoking excessive amounts of marijuana daily they will form a dependence that will negatively affect their life and overall health.
It has been shown that if a person does develop a dependence to marijuana, it is generally easier to kick than any other drug, including cigarettes.
Potential Positive Effects
Studies are starting to show that cannabis might be able to promote neurogenesis in adults. Neurogenesis is the growth of new brain cells.
A study found that cannabinoids could act as CB1 receptors to regulate the process of neurogenesis. If this is the case, it means that it can also reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Better Brain Function
A study also found that when activating the brains cannabinoid system, it triggers a type of antioxidant cleanse that removes damaged cells and improves the efficiency of the mitochondria which results in better brain function. This could be a way to slow down the aging process of the human brain.
Productivity and Performance
A study found that marijuana had no short-term impact on cognitive flexibility, mental calculation, and reasoning but it did seem to make it so that the participants gave premature responses and took longer to complete tasks in general.
In conclusion, cannabis is a drug that has been shown to have short-term and long-term effects on cognition that are both negative and positive.
It does seem that when consumed in low doses and not on a regular basis there are few negative side effects overall.
The most notable risk is heavy, daily use that has the potential for developing negative long-term effects.
More large-scale medical studies need to be performed to know for sure what cannabis can do to our bodies and brains.