For some, the legalization of Cannabis has been a long awaited event. When the Federal Cannabis Act came into effect on October 17 2018, Canada became the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to formally legalize the consumption and distribution of Cannabis. Many were overjoyed, while others stood to argue the negative effects that marijuana has on the body and brain.
Upon extensive research, I’ve come to realize that I also stand with those individuals. To be fair, yes Marijuana can be prescribed to treat patients who suffer from physical symptoms due to illnesses such as loss of appetite and pain. “How does Marijuana increase my appetite” one might ask. Well, we have THC to thank for that. THC, also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, elicits the marijuana high, which imitates substances called endocannabinoids, that the human body naturally produces. Endocannabinoids are what control the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters enable communication between the brain and the central nervous system. Endocannabinoids are responsible for relaxing our muscles, reducing inflammation, and regulating our appetite. So essentially, THC is a great copycat. But here lies the problem. The effects that come into play from Endocannabinoids, are sabotaged with the use of Marijuana, and the communication between the brain and the Central Nervous System, are disrupted. This results in memory-loss, the inability to cope with emotions and coordination problems.
The number one side effect most commonly associated with Marijuana smokers, is the loss of memory. Cannabis is responsible for temporarily prohibiting the brain from creating new memories and learning new things. The hippocampus is responsible for this type of memory loss. Large concentrations of cannabinoid receptors exist in the hippocampus, and as a result, the THC interferes with the memory when it binds with those receptors.
Other common side effects are coordination and impairment. The cerebellum controls coordination. The basal ganglia controls muscle movements, and both of these are affected by THC. Research shows that the effects Marijuana has on a young, undeveloped mind, are much greater than those on a developed adult mind. A recent New Zealand study showed that those who smoked heavily in their teens, lost an average of 8 IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38. Even by quitting when they became adults, the mental abilities sadly did not fully return. Individuals who started smoking as adults, with developed brains, didn’t show prominent IQ declines. Another study showed that teens who smoked a substantial amount of marijuana had “abnormally shaped” hippocampal regions by the time they reached 20 years of age.
Of course the long term effects of Marijuana come down to many factors. How it is being used, how often it is being used, and the age of the individual. In my experience, people become addicted to the feeling they inhabit from Marijuana because THC releases dopamine, and who doesn’t respond well to pleasure? The main challenge here, is to find other factors in your life that give you pleasure, and a sense of euphoria that doesn’t affect your brain and body in a negative way long term. This requires a lot of self-work, and soul searching, and we can understand why most turn to a vice, such as Marijuana. It can be scary and a challenge to dig deep within yourself and do the work needed, instead of burying the hatchet and not dealing with one’s issues. But if you value you mind and body, I implore you to do the work, and live a healthy life, with memories that haven’t been forgotten.