The Effects of Cannabis Abuse on the Brain
Cannabis abuse is a growing concern. Cannabis itself comes in many forms. It is appearing in many areas of pop culture and features heavily in many different cultures and countercultures across the world.
Cannabis use also represents a growing field in the world of medicine and well-being. However, no matter the form, and no matter the potential benefits, all types of cannabis consumption share a great many downsides when the drug is abused.
In short, the overuse of cannabis can be incredibly negative. Any use by those who suffer from addiction even more so; can be downright destructive.
Let’s take a run-through of some of the effects of cannabis and what you can expect to see in anyone abusing cannabis.
The effects of cannabis abuse
The effects of cannabis can all occur with even light or occasional use. However, the more cannabis is used – the more it is abused – the more likely you will find these effects becoming commonplace, more severe, and, more problematic.
Many people with an addiction to cannabis will focus on the pros of cannabis use. They will justify what cannabis does for them, as opposed to them. However, in light of the destructive nature of any addiction, these pro’s really aren't worth the paper they are written on (so to speak)
1. Cannabis use can get you high
Of course, cannabis can get you high. Isn’t that why people use it in the first place? Though this can often be harmless, this high can be ruinous for those with addictive tendencies. It can be harmful with overuse, too.
Cannabis contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive compound. It is this THC in Cannabis products that makes you high. It causes your brain to release the pleasure chemical, dopamine, by stimulating the part of your brain involved with regulating and producing it. This provides a feeling of euphoria and relaxation.
2. Cannabis use can relieve pain
Cannabis is widely recognised in the medical community as an excellent therapy for chronic pain. Though many places still outlaw its use as a recreational drug, plenty of Western jurisdictions promote its use in medicine. Medical-grade cannabis certainly has a place in relieving the symptoms of some ailments.
It can help to mitigate the symptoms of chronic pain, such as those associated with arthritis and osteoporosis. It can also ease stiff muscles and muscle spasms brought on by diseases like multiple sclerosis. However, a word of caution needs to be carefully weighed up by a medical professional. You should never self-medicate symptoms with any drug or substance. This is classed as drug abuse and can progress into an addiction
3. Cannabis use can relieve other symptoms
It doesn’t stop with pain. Cannabis can be used to ease the symptoms of a great many medical concerns.
For example, cannabis use can help those with sleep apnoea, MS and fibromyalgia to get better quality sleep.
Those experiencing weight loss and loss of appetite because of AIDS can find cannabis helps them to retain weight. Those suffering from pain and nausea because of chemotherapy can find their symptoms reduced by cannabis use. It can even help to treat seizures in those suffering from epilepsy.
However, all of the pros of cannabis use become undone when someone crosses the line into abusing the drug. It may take a while for the consequences to come, but they will come with continued abuse of any drug.
The bad effects of Cannabis abuse
4. Cannabis abuse can harm your mental wellbeing
Cannabis can make you happy and relaxed. However, this isn’t always the case, especially where it is abused and overused. In fact, far from making you happy and relaxed, it can elicit anxiety, fear, and paranoia. It can also raise your risk of suffering from clinical depression.
This is assuming you have no underlying mental health concerns. If you do then cannabis abuse can exacerbate them a great deal. it can worsen mental health disorders and impair your overall mental well-being.
In high enough doses, taken over a long enough period of time, cannabis abuse can cause you to lose touch with reality. This can lead to psychosis and extreme paranoia which can persist beyond the cannabis ‘high’, hitting you long term.
The THC in Cannabis is the psychoactive compound
In fact, cannabis is well-known for distorting your cognitive processes and thinking. It can cloud your judgement and alter your sense of perception, especially when you’ve abused stronger varieties of cannabis, such as various strains of weed, for longer periods of time.
As part of this, the THC compound can heighten your senses, making sounds louder or more extreme, colours more vivid, and so on. It can also distort your timekeeping abilities and sense of time. It can also damage your motor skills, including your fine motor skills. This makes tasks like operating machinery and driving, harder and oftentimes dangerous.
Finally, cannabis abuse can lower your inhibitions. This can lead to risky behaviour patterns as your own sense of self-control or inhibitions disappears. This risky behaviour can lead to using harder drugs, drinking to excess, engaging in unhealthy sexual practices etc.
If you mix alcohol and cannabis, you will roughly double the chances that you’ll drink drive. You will also be at far greater risk of creating problems in your personal or professional life than you would by just drinking alcohol on its own.
5. Cannabis abuse can physically harm your brain
This is slightly separate to mental health concerns, as we are looking at the long-term effects of cannabis on cognitive health rather than mental well-being.
Cannabis abuse can make it far harder for you to focus and learn new things. It can inhibit memory, making you far more forgetful. It can wreck your working memory, making everyday tasks and organisation a lot more challenging.
These effects are present in all cannabis users. For the most part, they are short-term. They should diminish around 24 hours after you stop smoking. However, long-term or heavy users can experience these effects permanently. This can be especially true of those who abused cannabis during their teenage years.
Imaging tests have proven the hugely detrimental impact that cannabis has on the developing teenage brain. These tests showed that many adolescents who smoked weed physically changed their brains. They had fewer connective pathways in their brains, specifically those related to alertness, learning, and memory. In some cases, IQ levels can be lowered.
6. Cannabis abuse can hurt your lungs and heart
Smoking is bad for our lungs – we know this. However, cannabis smoke can be worse in many ways than tobacco smoke.
Firstly, cannabis joints generally contain tobacco, so all the pitfalls associated with smoking cigarettes are all there. Secondly, you tend to inhale cannabis smoke more deeply.
This can lead to inflamed and irritated lungs. It can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer. If you regularly abuse cannabis, you will likely end up with similar breathing issues to someone who smokes cigarettes, including an increased risk of infection, periodic bad coughs, and coloured thick mucus.
Cannabis abuse forces your heart to work harder, sometimes even doubling its resting pace. Most of us have a resting heart rate of 50-70 bpm. This is a healthy range. However, this can go up to 70-120 bpm for up to three hours after cannabis use.
This shouldn’t have too much of a long-term effect on light users. Your heart rate will come back down to normal after this three-hour period. However, long-term and chronic abuse is different. Regularly adding this extra strain can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. This is compounded by the tar and other chemicals that you’ll be breathing in as you smoke.
7. Cannabis abuse can increase your appetite
You may find your appetite increasing if you regularly abuse cannabis. Often called the munchies, this increased need to eat can be compulsive and often over the top, leading to significant weight gain.
This can be a good thing for those who need to gain weight – we mentioned those suffering from AIDS-associated weight loss above. However, for many of us, it will lead to unhealthy body composition.
8. Cannabis abuse can harm your unborn child
Pregnant women should not smoke cannabis. It can drastically raise the danger of having an underweight child. It can also raise the risk of premature birth.
There are also several developmental concerns linked with cannabis use during pregnancy. Infants exposed to cannabis in the womb are more likely to struggle in school and underachieve. They are less likely to physically develop to their full potential. They are also more likely to use drugs themselves, though this could be as much down to the environment as exposure.
9. Cannabis can be addictive: cannabis abuse opens you up to this
As with anything that alters dopamine production in the brain, there is an addictive element to cannabis use. This is often what takes cannabis use into cannabis abuse, as people become hooked and begin to take larger doses with increasing frequency.
In fact, a full 10% of people who use cannabis will become addicted to it. This means that you will want to use it no matter what harmful effects it can bring. This risk increases in those who begin younger and abuse it more. The more cannabis you smoke, the likelier you are to become addicted to it.
Quitting cannabis when you are addicted is hard. The cannabis withdrawal timeline can be hard to deal with, as can the temptation to fall off the wagon, no matter how much harm cannabis has caused you.
How Cannabis abuse can lead to addiction
Abuse or overuse of any drug is dangerous territory. Whilst some people will stop when they feel the pinch of consequences, others will continue.
When the brain is exposed to large and regular amounts of any drug that affects the brain's dopamine reward centre, it eventually undergoes structural change. This causes the brain to rewire its pathways, prioritising the ‘best’ source of dopamine. When this happens, the power of choice is taken away. The addicted brain compels the sufferer to use, regardless of negative consequences.
What this will look like for someone who is addicted, is wanting to stop cannabis use but not being able to.
Thankfully, whilst addiction cannot be fully reversed in the brain, it can be successfully treated and recovery can be maintained. The first step is abstinence. Most people need help and support in achieving this first and vital step.
As addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder, it is vital not to waste time. Once you have managed to quit cannabis use, throwing yourself into a recovery programme will give you the best chance of long-term success.
By joining us here, at Recoverlution, you will have access to knowledge, connection with like-minded others, and proven methods of increasing your well-being in addiction recovery. Give yourself the best possible start and join us on our recovery journey as part of the Recoverlution community.
- Marijuana affects on brain health: https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects/brain-health.html
- Effects of Cannabis on the Adolescent Brain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3930618/