Everybody knows being stoned can make you pretty dumb, and hungry, but you’ll be right back to normal when it wears off. Or will you? If you smoke marijuana excessively you may actually be doing a lot of harm to your brain in the long run.
Trouble on the Mind
Researchers at Columbia University in a recent study found that heavy users of marijuana had decreased dopamine levels in the striatum region of their brain and it compromised their dopamine system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released in response to pleasurable stimuli (such as eating sweets or sex), while the striatum is the area responsible for memory, impulsive behavior and attention.
Having a dopamine deficit in the striatum has been associated with reduced cognitive performance, meaning that less dopamine correlates to less functionality. This lowered release of dopamine is a result of dependence on the drug, and this addiction has been likened to that of cocaine and heroin.
It’s also thought that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, could lead to addiction because of its ability to stimulate dopamine neurons. That’s a little more to worry about than just wondering where the pizza guy is.
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Using Positron Emission Tomography (PET), researcher Anissa Abi-Dargham examined the dopamine levels released in the striatum of 11 marijuana-dependent subjects after smoking. When compared to the non-dependent control subjects, they showed reduced dopamine levels.
Through a series of other tests, they assessed the cognitive functioning of the marijuana-dependent subjects and found they scored much lower than the control subjects. They couldn’t, however, determine a causal relationship between marijuana use and dopamine deficit because they couldn’t tell if it was a preexisting condition or a result of heavy marijuana use.
A study in 1998 also found that repeated exposure to THC over two weeks reduced prefrontal cortical metabolism in rats, lowering the dopamine levels there too. This shows that marijuana may have an impact on more parts of the brain than initially thought.
Although marijuana is legalized in a few countries and states, there are still long-term dangers yet unknown. Excessive use of anything whether it is drugs or even food can lead to adverse health effects, so moderation is key. The next time you’re playing Mario Kart in your friends’ basement, maybe try it sober.
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