What are the effects of marijuana on the brain?
Your brain thrives on cannabis. Far from being destructive and harmful to our brain, cannabis improves brain function, encourages regeneration of brain cells, protects healthy brain cells from death and stimulates creative and insightful cognition.
The adult human brain contains between 100–500 trillion synapses with every cubic millimeter of the cerebral cortex containing roughly a billion of them. It is at these synapses that neurotransmission occurs and cannabinoids are essential to their normal functioning.
Crucial to the biological functions responsible for perception and thought, the chemical synapses are specialized junctions that enable neurons to form circuits and signal to each other. Due to the unusual property of retrograde transmission, cannabinoids play a critical role in neurotransmission. Without the feedback mechanism from this diffusion backward across the neural cleft, the synapses would be vulnerable to excessive activity which could result in nerve cell death.
The largest neurotransmission system in our bodies is the endocannabinoid system which is activated by cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. In the brain, cannabinoid receptors abound abundantly in the basal ganglia, hippocampus, and cerebellum, but not in the lower brainstem.
The Safety of Cannabis for the Brain
The lower brainstem controls respiratory and cardiovascular functions. It is the absence of cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem that is responsible for the unparalleled safety of cannabis. This the reason why there has never been a fatal overdose as there is no risk of respiratory or cardiovascular failure.
The cannabinoid system not only prevents cell death, it is also responsible for neurogenesis – the creation of new brain cells. The system facilitates the process of neurogenesis throughout the entire human life span, from embryonic development to late adulthood. In the brain, neurogenesis takes place primarily in the hippocampus which is responsible for memory, learning and spatial orientation.
It should be no surprise then that this process of forming new neurons in the hippocampus improves learning and memory. What is amazing is that cannabinoids also promote neurogenesis even after brain cells are damaged as well as delay the decline in neurogenesis.
Research on the Effects of Marijuana on the Brain
Although neurogenesis is a process that continues throughout life, neurogenesis does decline with aging. Canadian researcher Dr. Xia Zhang found that synthetic THC could not only promote neurogenesis in laboratory animals, but also seemed to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. How perfect for the elderly.
Research conducted in Israel and Spain has shown that it is the unique ability of the cannabinoids found in cannabis to protect nerve cells from dying, to reduce inflammation and prevent mental decline that underlies its proven ability to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Along with its anti-inflammatory properties, the capacity of cannabinoids to control fundamental neurological activities can help people recover from the neurological damage that occurs with stroke or injury.
The high densities of cannabinoid receptors found in the forebrain and cerebellum also explain why cannabinoids are essential for cognition and movement. It is this increase in cannabinoid activity in the evolutionarily advanced areas of the brain that promotes higher levels of consciousness and hence creativity.
Perhaps this ability to induce higher levels of consciousness explains a 2010/2011 study in Ireland that found cannabis use more common among those with higher educational achievements. The study found that cannabis use rates were highest among people who were still in education over the age of 20 and lowest among those who left education before the age of 15.
Final Thoughts on Marijuana's Effects on the Brain
Far from the fear mongering of mercenary drug warriors that marijuana damages our brains and inhibits our thought processes, the use of the cannabinoid supplements found in cannabis can protect our brains, ensure the proper functioning of neural transmission systems, delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and stimulate new and innovative thoughts of the highest order.