WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE BRAIN DAMAGE AND EFFECTS OF CHRONIC THC INTAKE?
As you well know, marijuana is a natural product that, if taken by humans and animals, gives more or less intense psychotropic effects.
The substance that acts on a psychic level is THC, an acronym for tetrahydrocannabinol, a substance that interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our brain.
There are hundreds of other cannabinoids besides THC, including CBD (which became famous with CBD Cannabis). Still, it seems that tetrahydrocannabinol is responsible for the alteration of the human psyche.
Speaking of THC and the brain, what can this cannabinoid do in the short and long term? What are the effects of its use, occasionally or frequently?
Let’s see it together in the course of this study.
THC: short-term effects.
Unlike legal marijuana, which acts purely on a physical level, marijuana high in THC causes short and long term effects on the brain.
Simply put, when a person consumes cannabis in the form of smoke, food or drink, THC passes from the lungs or digestive system into the bloodstream and acts on the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the human brain’s endocannabinoid system.
The interaction between cannabinoid receptors and THC activates the brain’s areas that contain the most significant number of receptors, causing very particular effects.
Specifically, the short-term effects of cannabis use are as follows:
- alteration of the five senses
- mood swings
- slowing of movements and reflexes
- difficulty thinking or, conversely, fast flow of thoughts
- higher concentration
- memory impairment
- increased creativity
- hallucinations and delusions (if taken in large quantities)
- depression and apathy
- impaired cognitive abilities
- psychosis (if taken in large amounts and/or for a long time)
- uncontrollable hunger, or the so-called munchies
Cannabis users do not experience these sensations in a single session (and may even experience only some of them in their entire life). This substance’s effects depend on the user’s mental status, the amount of marijuana consumed, the concentration of THC, and many other factors.
As we have anticipated, the use of marijuana also causes long-term effects, especially in chronic users at a young age.
The long-term effects of THC on the brain.
Numerous studies, including Persistent cannabis users, show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife, a study conducted by researchers from Duke University in the USA and the University of Otago in New Zealand, and Effects of Cannabis Use on Human Behavior, Including Cognition, Motivation, and Psychosis: A Review, conducted by researchers from numerous institutes and universities (including the National Institute on Drug Abuse of Maryland and the University of California), claim that THC strongly affects human brain development.
All the studies conducted in this regard have stated that prolonged use of THC, especially in adolescence, can impair thinking, memory, learning skills and, in general, interfere with cognitive abilities.
Studies still in progress verify the duration of these long-term effects of marijuana, also wondering if these alterations could be permanent.
For example, researchers from Duke University and the University of Otago have shown that those who start smoking marijuana chronically since adolescence and who continue to have marijuana addiction problems have a lower than average IQ. People who stopped using cannabis in adulthood have not fully recovered their mental abilities.
However, the same study states that people who started smoking cannabis when they were adults did not show a severe decline in the IQ.
It also appears that cannabis abuse can trigger the onset of schizophrenia in predisposed people.
Cannabis and schizophrenia: what do we know about it?
The prevalence of schizophrenic patients (versus non-schizophrenic people) among chronic marijuana users has raised scientific interest in THC’s role in the onset of this psychotic disorder.
Is it schizophrenic patients who tend to use cannabis to keep symptoms at bay or, conversely, is it THC that triggers this disorder in predisposed individuals?
Many studies have tried to answer this question, including Cannabis and schizophrenia: Relationships with onset, clinical course and psychopathology by researchers Valerio Orlandi (Sahlgrenska University Hospital) and Giuseppe Bersani (Università Della Sapienza) and The Association Between Cannabis Use and Schizophrenia: Causative or Curative? A Systematic Review by researchers from the California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences & Psychology, Fairfield, USA.
The studies’ results are as follows: Cannabis and schizophrenia/psychosis have a very close relationship. Evidence gathered over many years of research suggests that the THC contained in cannabis leads to earlier diagnoses of psychosis/schizophrenia in genetically predisposed or at-risk people. Therefore, THC appears to have a small triggering effect on schizophrenia.
That’s not all: tetrahydrocannabinol worsens schizophrenia and psychosis symptoms and causes relapses, hospitalizations, and refusal of drug treatments. Neuroimaging studies also show the damaging effect of cannabis on brain morphology, especially on adolescent brains.
But there is some excellent news: The Association Between Cannabis Use and Schizophrenia: Causative or Curative? A Systematic Review states that recent research on the therapeutic use of CBD shows that this cannabinoid has positive effects on relieving the symptoms of schizophrenia (as well as its contrasting effect on THC).