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The Long Term Effects of Marijuana on the Mind

December 17, 2021

Marijuana goes by many names. Commonly referred to as weed, pot, dope, reefer, and more, but all reference the same drug derived from the cannabis plant. Like several other drugs, marijuana can be used in many different ways. Depending on the individual, it may be vaped, eaten, brewed in a tea, or, likely the most common form, smoked. 


Although medical professionals are beginning to prescribe marijuana with greater frequency, weed is generally a pleasure or recreational drug. In the medical setting, it is used to help alleviate symptoms related to chronic conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, and glaucoma. 


A Note in Marijuana and Legality

Until recently, marijuana has been illegal in all states except when prescribed and obtained through medical marijuana dispensaries. Because marijuana or weed has a reputation for being a ”harmless” drug, there has been a strong push over the last decade to legalize it across the nation. In recent years, the medical benefits of marijuana have received increased attention in the medical and mental health treatment fields. By the end of 2017, medical marijuana was legalized in 29 U.S states and the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.). Also, many of the same states have legalized recreational marijuana as well. Although some states have legalized marijuana use to some degree, it remains illegal to use, grow or possess in many states across the nation. 


Ongoing Research into the Benefits of Marijuana

As more and more states push to legalize marijuana, research into the effects of weed on the brain and body continues. Also, research on the therapeutic effects of THC and CBD (cannabidiol) has increased dramatically as the marketing of CBD-containing products in recent years has skyrocketed. The National Institutes of Health have funded new and ongoing research into the possible medicinal uses of THC and CBD. To date, this research remains ongoing. 


As previously noted, marijuana has a reputation for being “safe” or “harmless.” Ongoing research into how weed interacts with the brain and vital body systems calls this broad assumption into question. Depending on how it is used, marijuana will affect the body and brain. For example, when you smoke weed and inhale the smoke into your lungs, 

it is quickly released into your bloodstream, making its way to your brain and other organs. 


However, when weed is baked or eaten, it takes far longer for the effects to travel throughout the body. For the most part: however,  the impact of marijuana on the brain is often immediate. The longevity of the effects or impairment may depend on how long you take it, how much you use, and how often you use it. The exact impact on the mind and body is hard to determine or verify because marijuana has been illegal in the United States, making studies difficult to conduct and data nearly impossible to find. 


The Effects of Marijuana on the Mind

Although weed is often considered safe, ongoing use of marijuana can have lasting and potentially dangerous effects on the body and mind. But weed affects everyone who uses it differently, so one person’s experiences will inevitably be different from someone else. If you are concerned that your teen’s use of marijuana is affecting their mental health, it is time to consider seeking help at a teen-focused treatment center like Hillcrest. 


Marijuana addiction is possible.

The issues around addiction are one of the primary reasons marijuana advocates argue that weed is safer than other drugs. Despite the common belief that marijuana is not as addictive as other drugs such as heroin, many teens and adults struggle with marijuana dependency and addiction.  Current estimates state that approximately one in six people get addicted to the drug. Also, 2017 data show as many as 24% of 12th graders report using marijuana in the last month, and more than 3,000 adolescents and teens try marijuana for the first time each day. 


Marijuana can impact drive and ambition.

The high associated with smoking weed often makes a person feel “baked” or “hazed.” The feeling is typically described as a feeling of relaxation as opposed to a feeling of being stimulated. Teens who consume weed regularly naturally feel these sensations more often. With prolonged use, most pot smokers end up giving up on or procrastinating on essential tasks, including school work, employment obligations, extracurricular activities, and other long-term goals. 


Marijuana use can lead to developmental delays.

Studies have shown that those using weed heavily during adolescence may reach adulthood with lower IQ levels than their peers. The brain is actively growing and developing through the early to mid-twenties. While the brain is still developing, a mind-altering substance such as THC can impair growth and development and have lasting and irreversible effects. 


Pot smokers often become reclusive.

Marijuana remains illegal in many places, and for that reason, teens (and adults) who smoke or use regularly will often hide their habits from others. When teens start smoking daily at home (alone) rather than at parties or with friends, they tend to spend a lot more time alone where they feel safe to facilitate their habit. They will stop spending as much time with friends and family who do not smoke weed and start choosing new friends based on who does and doesn’t want to get high. Whether this stems from feelings of self-consciousness about their drug use or merely a preference for the company of those who share a similar mindset, users will often end up living more reclusive and isolated lives.


Marijuana can lead to mental health problems.

Long-term weed use can result in a variety of mental health issues. Some of the most common include reduced self-esteem, anxiety, paranoia, insecurity, and new or worsening underlying mental health conditions symptoms, including depression and anxiety.


Regular use of marijuana can leave someone feeling anxious, afraid, or panicked. Not everybody’s experience with weed results in the “happy high” commonly attributed to smoking pot. There are no definitive explanations for why smoking weed can result in paranoia for some and not others. Still, multiple studies have linked chronic marijuana use with a higher risk of psychosis. These same studies have suggested that people who smoked or ingested weed frequently were more likely to be diagnosed with a psychotic mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, than people who had never used marijuana.


Weed affects the central nervous system.

The adverse effects of smoking weed extend throughout the central nervous system (CNS), including effects on the brain and spinal cord. Although marijuana can ease pain and inflammation and help control spasms and seizures, some long-term adverse effects still require consideration. 


THC, one of the active ingredients in weed, triggers the brain to release large amounts of dopamine. Dopamine is a naturally occurring “feel good “chemical in the human body. Dopamine gives you the feeling of being high when you smoke pot. Excess dopamine release may heighten your sensory perception and perception of time. THC can also change how the hippocampus processes information, so your teen’s judgment may be impaired. The hippocampus is responsible for memory functions, so getting high may cause difficulties with memory formation and cognition. In those younger than age 25, whose brains have not yet fully developed, marijuana can have a lasting impact on thinking and memory processes. 


Smoking weed also results in changes in the cerebellum and basal ganglia. These are areas of the brain that play roles in movement and balance. As a result, balance, coordination, and reflexes will occur when high.


Excessive doses of marijuana or high concentrations of THC can result in hallucinations or delusions. Some research has shown there may be a link between smoking weed and increased risk for developing (or worsening) some mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Also, if your teen struggles with schizophrenia, using marijuana may significantly worsen their symptoms. 


The debate around weed and whether or not it is safer than other drugs remains ongoing. As more and more states legalize marijuana use for medical or even recreational purposes, the ability to study how marijuana affects the brain will increase. Previously, studies to determine the impacts of weed on the mind were challenging to conduct as regular users were reluctant to come forwards due to fear of legal consequences. Considering studies on adolescents and teens require parental consent, determining the effects of marijuana on this age group is even more complex. 


Despite the challenges associated with research, there is substantial evidence that long-term marijuana use has detrimental effects on the human brain. Additionally, long-term excessive use of weed can develop or exacerbate the ocean of various mental health conditions. Despite medical providers prescribing marijuana (or weed) for use in pain medication or symptom relief, the risk of harmful consequences related to chronic use remains. 


Contact us at Hillcrest today if you are worried about your teen and marijuana use. Your teen’s ability to quickly and successfully give up weed without treatment will depend significantly on the severity of their addiction. Like other substances, long-term or excessive use often makes quitting without professional help challenging. At Hillcrest, we will work with your teen and family to develop a comprehensive treatment plan based on their specific treatment needs. Our programs are tailored around your teen’s unique physical and emotional needs as they begin the process of quitting marijuana. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about how we can help your teen quit marijuana. 





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