Understand The Marijuana Effects on Brain Morphology


Many studies have already proven the effects of medical marijuana in the brain and body function especially its benefit in the treatment of various health conditions. Making the marijuana production and weed delivery industry grow exponentially in the past decade and urged further studies that made researchers discover that it can affect the brain structure mainly the hippocampus – a part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

Test on Animals

According to the research from University of Nottingham in England, they found out that taking marijuana may help protect brain damage after a stroke by decreasing the size of the problem area. This was discovered when they studied rats, mice and monkeys. In addition, research on cannabis effect on these animals has shown that it also provides defense on the brain after an injury such as concussions. These effects of cannabis and its connection to brain injury and trauma have been studied in humans as well and it showed significant results.

Further studies have shown that injection of cannabis-like chemical seem to help sprout new neurons in mice. It is contrary with the use of most addictive drugs that hinders the growth of new brain cells. According to the experts, this finding can be a significant indication for research in addiction and the use of marijuana as medicine.

Addictive Drugs Vs. Marijuana

Years of research have been spent by experts on their interest in how drugs can affect a part of the brain called hippocampus. This part of the brain can grow new neurons in an entire lifetime of an individual. A theory suggested that these new brain cells aid in improving one’s memory while helping improve depression and mood disorders.

According to scientists, the use of addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine stops the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, which they believe could impair the brain function of addicts. The understanding on how addictive drugs can have an effect on this part may give a critical contribution in the treatment of addiction.

Research from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada is aiming to study how cannabinoids, a type of chemical found in marijuana that causes drug-like effects in the body, act on the brain.

Effects on Brain Structure

Several studies from 1976 to 2002 on marijuana’s effect on brain structure presented some inconsistencies as most information on its impact of its uses on humans has come from studies of individuals with heavy recreational use. With chronic adolescent and adult users as participants, structural neuroimaging techniques used in the study of cannabis effect provide evidence of brain morphological abnormalities related to the amount of cannabis exposure.

The part of the brain with the highest composition of CB1 receptors would manifest significant changes with heavy cannabis use. These CB1 receptors are mostly found in the temporal lobe which contains the hippocampal formation, and the amygdala. These parts are responsible for an individual’s hearing, memory and emotion.

According to studies, their main focus is the hippocampus within the temporal lobe, which is know to have a high density of CB1 receptors.

Despite some inconsistencies across study designs and in findings, structural neuroimaging has indicated abnormalities in hippocampal volume and gray matter density of cannabis users relative to controls. Other work showed that abnormalities in hippocampal volume and shape may be seen in individuals who have cannabis dependence, and not necessarily in those who engage in regular cannabis use without exhibiting dependence such as those using it for medicinal purposes. Nonetheless, several review articles in the past decade have concluded that chronic cannabis use has a significant effect on hippocampal structure in adolescents and suggested that such effects reflect interactions with cannabinoid CB1 receptors, which are densely expressed in the hippocampus.

Frequent cannabis use may be particularly harmful to the adolescent brain. It is likely that those who use cannabis in the early adolescence stage are believed to become heavily dependent. Some studies suggest that the effects of cannabis use during adolescence could be more serious than during adulthood because it may alter the trajectory of brain development. From a more biological perspective, use of cannabis during critical developmental periods may cause persistent, long-term alterations in brain structure and brain function.

Changes to hippocampal structure due to heavy cannabis use in the adolescence stage continue to exist even if the user abstained for several decades based on recent findings. These changes are regionally specific to hippocampal subregions with high densities of CB1 receptors, and are not seen in parietal cortex, where the density of CB1 receptors is relatively low. Although obtained in a retrospective assessment, these results argue for more long-term prospective studies to examine the effects of adolescent use in late life, to help clarify how changes resulting from heavy cannabis use interact with brain aging.

Conclusion and the Need for Further Research

Experts have been conducting constant research in identifying the effects of marijuana not just its effect in the chemical process of an individual’s body but also its physiological structure. Even gathering results with tests on animals and to the extent of comparing results of using addictive drugs versus using medical marijuana. We can say that there have been scientific findings and advancements throughout the decades of research that proved cannabis as affecting the brain structure especially those areas with a high level of CB1 receptors. Though results may vary from individuals depending on their exposure to cannabis, it is still a good foundation to move forward and do further studies especially now that marijuana has been legalized and an increased number of users are noted.

Marijuana delivery in Los Angeles and other related industries are aware of increasing usage rates by people in every age range in the United States. This highlights the need to address unanswered questions about the effects of cannabis on the brain and give light to new discoveries through facilitation of recruitment of participants for observational studies to answer these questions. The support of marijuana legalization has increase public awareness of questions about the effects of cannabis.

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Understand The Marijuana Effects on Brain Morphology

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Updated on September 08, 2021

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