Marijuana is one of the most popular recreational drugs in the world, and for good reason. The drug creates a euphoric high, increasing enjoyment of things like food, enhances creativity, and is just plain fun. On top of that, it’s remarkably safe – unlike some other legal drugs, like alcohol, and plenty of illegal drugs, like heroin and cocaine, marijuana is essentially impossible to overdose on (the amount required is simply too much to smoke!).
So marijuana is safe and fun. But why? How does it affect our brains?
What we know about marijuana and the brain
Marijuana seems to affect our brain with cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are substances in our brains that affect the way our neurons fire – they help control things like mood, appetite, memory, sleep, and a whole lot of other things. The four specifically mentioned here are important because they’re affected by a cannabinoid called anandamide. And the most prevalent (and best-known) cannabinoid in marijuana is Tetrahydrocannabinol (better known as THC), which closely resembles anandamide. That’s why your mood, appetite, memory, and sleep habits are so affected by marijuana.
But THC is far from the only cannabinoid in marijuana. There’s also Cannabidiol (CBD), another major cannabinoid that affects different thing than THC. Modern marijuana hybrids often aim to isolate the effects of either THC or CBD. And that’s not the end of the equation, either, because marijuana actually has more than sixty of these cannabinoids in it!
These cannabinoids are responsible (primarily, at least) for the effects marijuana has while you are high: increased appetite (and enjoyment of food), short-term memory loss, feelings of euphoria, and so on.
Long-term effects of marijuana
We know a bit about the short-term effects of marijuana use, though not as much as we’d like to. And we know far less than we’d like to about long-term effects.
This is because marijuana was vilified for so long, and federal government restrictions (still largely in place, despite advances in state law) have restricted research. So we don’t really know a lot about how marijuana affects longtime users.
It seems unlikely that marijuana affects memory and focus in the long term the way that it does in the short term, which renders a few of our stoner stereotypes obsolete. Marijuana hasn’t been proven to lead to any physical diseases. It seems likely that smoking marijuana is less healthy long-term than vaping or ingesting edibles, but smoking organic marijuana is far less dangerous than smoking cigarettes, which have all kinds of additives and carcinogens that don’t exist in a blunt or a joint. Marijuana can be psychologically addictive, like just about any fun activity (and a few that aren’t fun at all), but it appears to be significantly less addictive than other legal and illegal drugs, including alcohol. And evidence is limited that marijuana can worsen mental illness – on the contrary, it may actually help (if you need help with a mental health disorder, see a psychiatrist and rely on them for advice that is specific to your situation).
In short, we know very little about marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain – but what we do know is encouraging. Marijuana has great potential as a medical drug, and its dangers to short- and long-term users are extremely limited. So smoke on – the more we learn, the better this drug seems!