Cannabis became legal in three more states in the US on 8 November 2016. History is being made, but this development also poses questions.
What are the effects of cannabis smoking on the body and brain when it is used recreationally?
Nordic business insider looked into the “insider” effects of cannabis on the body and brain. These “insights” are precious, as we know a schedule 1 substance is very difficult to study and gain insight on.
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Smoking marijuana makes you feel rewarded
The active ingredient when smoked (therefore heated), THC, interacts with our brain’s reward system. This is the part of the brain that normally registers a response to things which makes us feel good, for example eating or having sex.
When drugs overexcite this system, we experience euphoria. The argument against this being that if euphoria is induced too often, other rewarding experiences become less needed or valued.
Smoking marijuana can make your heart race
Literally within minutes of inhaling marijuana the heart rate can increase by 20 to 50 beats a minute lasting from 20 minutes up to 3 hours. (According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse).
Marijuana can relieve pain
Marijuana also contains cannabidiol, a compound that is responsible for many of marijuana’s therapeutic effects from pain relief to treating seizures in childhood epilepsy. This compound doesn’t make anyone high. THC is also believed to have pain relieving properties.
Cannabis medication brings relief to arthritis patients
A marijuana based medication – Sativex, showed significant improvements in pain on movement, pain at rest, and quality of sleep for patients with pain induced by inflammation in illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Marijuana brings relief to irritable bowl suffers
Studies underway suggest people with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis could also benefit from marijuana. However, researchers say more studies are needed.
Marijuana controls seizure in epilepsy patients
Epidiolex, which contains CBD or cannabidiol (a non-psychoactive cannabinoid) is on the verge of being approved by the FDA as a treatment for seizures in Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. The drug showed positive results in phase 3 of its clinical trials.
Marijuana can distort time and throw you off balance
Marijuana affects the cerebellum and basal ganglia, two brain areas that help regulate balance, coordination, reaction time, and posture. Some people are off balance for a short while after they smoked marijuana and have a distorted sense of time. Time might feel drawn out or speeded up. No studies have been able to determine the cause of this subjective effect.
Marijuana might turn your eyes red and give you the “munchies”.
Marijuana makes blood vessels expand and that is why it makes people’s eyes red.
The “munchies” happen because of a group of cells in the brain that are normally active after we have eaten enough. THC activates just one component of the group of appetite-suppressing cells, making you feel hungry rather than satisfied.
Marijuana distorts the short-term memory and might cause depression
Several studies suggest marijuana interferes with short-term memory. Researchers find these effects are more prevalent in inexperienced or infrequent users than in heavy users. They are still not sure how this happens.
Scientists are also not sure if marijuana causes depression or whether depressed people just like to smoke marijuana. One study considered young people who smoke marijuana but already have a serotonin gene that could cause depression.
Marijuana smoking may cause brain changes
MRI-based brain scans of the brains of adults who have smoked marijuana at least four times a week for years, compared to people who rarely or never used marijuana, showed a smaller orbitofrontal cortex. This part of the brain processes emotions and make decisions.
Long-term users also had stronger cross-brain connections, which some scientists suggest smokers develop to compensate. The study doesn’t show that smoking marijuana caused the region of the brain to shrink. Some studies suggest that having a smaller orbitofrontal cortex in the first place could make someone more likely to smoke marijuana.