Smoking weed once can change a teenager’s brain forever, says study
One spliff can radically change brain structure, according to scientists
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- 15:53, 19 JAN 2019
Smoking cannabis once can change a teenager’s brain forever, new research suggests.
The substance can radically change the structure of the brain, scientists at a university in Australia believe.
They claim there are clear differences on brain scans between teenagers who’ve ingested the drug a couple of times and those who have never tried it.
Who is behind the study?
Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, is behind the research.
They concluded changes might occur during early stages of cannabis use.
Catherine Orr, who led the study, admitted surprise at the “extent of the effects”.
In total, 46 14-year-olds – all of whom claimed they had used the substance once or twice – were analysed.
And 46 teenagers who have never taken the drug were also part of the study.
“In our sample of cannabis users, the greater volumes in the affected parts of the brain were associated with reductions in psychomotor sped and perceptual reasoning and with increased levels of anxiety two years later,” Orr said.
When you smoke a spliff, its active chemical Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) travels through your body and effects your brain.
Cannabis lingers in the system longer than most other drugs and can still be detected in your urine, blood and hair for up to 90 days afterwards.
Cannabis messes with the way your brain processes information.
It contains at least 60 types of cannabinoids, chemical compounds that act on receptors throughout our brain.
These keep neurons firing, magnifying your thoughts, imagination and perception, and makes you feel high by boosting your dopamine levels.
But having too much makes you anxious, paranoid or panicky.
Like other drugs, continued use can lead to addiction.
Just minutes after you’ve taken your first puff, your heart rate speeds up by 20 to 50 beats per minute.
This can continue from 20 minutes to three hours later.
Cannabis makes blood vessels expand making your eyes turn red.
It may also make your pupils dilate.
Weed also affects the parts of your brain that process what you see, leading to hallucinations.
People who smoke weed get the “munchies” and feel incredibly hungry.
A study that looked into pot’s effect on mice found the drug basically flips a switch in the brain that is normally responsible for controlling appetite.
Chronic cannabis users, who light up at least three times a day, tend to have smaller grey matter volumes in the orbitofrontal cortex – which unsurprisingly is the part of brain tied to addiction.
But interestingly cannabis use was also linked with greater connectivity in the brain.
There was evidence to suggest that the drug could help fight Alzheimer’s and dispelled the myth that smoking weed lowers IQ.
One spliff can radically change brain structure, according to scientists
Experts Explain What Happens In Your Body If You Smoke Weed Daily, Weekly, Or Monthly
ItвЂ™s not as cut & dry as you learned in D.A.R.E.
Sometimes picking up a joint can seem like the best way to wind down (particularly if you live in a place where it’s legal) вЂ” but you might be wondering what cannabis does to your body over time. It’s a complex plant, and its impact on your health is still being studied, with decades of legal restrictions slowly lifting.
Pot has been found to have more health benefits over the last few years, like alleviating chronic pain and helping insomnia. But depending on how often you smoke, there could be risks, too.
“Work from my lab and others does suggest that frequency of use correlates positively with cannabis-related problems,” Mitchell Earleywine Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Albany, tells Bustle. “But the effect isn’t particularly big.” Your experience will be pretty different if you’re an occasional weed-brownie-haver as opposed to a several-times-a-day vaper.
Whether you identify as an occasional or daily user, a bong ripper, or gummy-snacker, here’s what’s happening in your body when you use weed.
Scientists are still trying to figure out how many of weed’s effects are temporary, what’s long-term, and how much dosage is required. (And then there’s the fact that men react differently to women when it comes to cannabinoids, which is often not used as a factor in studies.) “Occasional use by adults is generally safe, particularly for those who use the vaporizer,” Earleywine says.
One way a smoking session every few months may hurt your body is in immune response. There is evidence cannabinoids interferes in our resistance to infection. One study in Journal of Cannabis Research in 2020 found that heavy cannabis use вЂ” defined as seven or more hits in the past 30 days вЂ”В tended to increase white blood cells, which indicates that the immune system is under strain, but it’s not clear if occasional use will have the same effects.
A single hit will significantly impair your balance, your reaction time, and your ability to form new memories, but these effects will wear off as your high does. “The impairment from cannabis relates to impaired ability to deal with unexpected events, like avoiding a car that comes out of nowhere,” Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Bustle. And 2015 study in Schizophrenia Bulletin has found that just one hit can cause paranoia in some people, which you probably knew.
Determining whether risks increase with use when it comes to cannabis is a bit tricky. “Monthly use has no meaningful impact,” Jonathan Caukins Ph.D., professor of operations research and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and an expert on cannabis legalization, tells Bustle.
Having a monthly smoke may to be linked to temporary harm to cognitive skills like memory, assimilation of new information, and attention, but it’s likely to be pass pretty quickly. According to a review of studies published in Journal of Addiction Medicine in 2012, a monthly user will “spring back” from this damage over four weeks of abstinence.
One study, published in 2014 by the Society Of Prevention Research, looked at boys throughout their lives, from 7th grade to age 35. Monthly weed use was common, and it didn’t seem to make a difference to the 35-year-olds’ health issues, medications, injuries, or hospitalizations. Men who didn’t smoke weed had the same outcomes.
When you smoke weekly, health risks go up. A 2020 study of 3,400 people published in JACC Cardiovascular Imaging found that weekly users showed problems with the left ventricles of their hearts and shifts in their heart structure. Regular use has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, particularly in the first few hours after a session.
A 2011 review of weekly users, published in Indian Journal of Psychiatry, found that going cold turkey for a month can restore cognitive powers, from reaction time to memory and dexterity. Other studies, though, only showed partial recovery. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse & Addiction did a roundup of studies in 2019 that found weekly smoking was much less likely to produce permanent cognitive problems than daily smoking.
For all the fearmongering, even daily use of weed isn’t going to be that harmful, all things considered. A 2015 study published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society stated fairly definitively that, even after 20 years of daily use, weed smokers were still able to expel the same amount of air from their lungs as non-smokers.
The scientific opinion on daily smoking and lung cancer isn’t clear either. Cancer Research UK found that some studies believe there is a link, while others don’t believe the indications are strong enough. They point out that the huge variation in the strength of weed, the fact that people sometimes smoke it with tobacco, and the different ways individuals process it all make a link hard to pin down. “Although cannabis does increase symptoms of bronchitis like coughing and wheezing, it does not appear to elevate risk for lung cancer,” Earleywine says.
There’s an argument that daily, heavy spliff use may actually alter the structure of your brain. “Daily use has many dangers, including most obviously altering brain pathways,” Caukins says. A 2014 study published in PNAS found that daily users seemed to have a smaller orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with emotional and decision-oriented processing, but also had denser links between different parts of the brain. A 2017 study published in Pediatric Neurology also found that chronic weed use was linked to damage in the brain’s white matter.
“One effect is subtle memory deficits,” Johnson says. “These seems to disappear with about a month of abstinence.” Daily use can also result in dependence, he says, which means you start feeling irritable, sleepless and lose your appetite whenever you stop.
The Bottom Line
“The data on cannabis and altered brain structure only seem to appear in those who used the plant heavily while still very young,” Earleywine cautions. And these findings have been hard to replicate. “Plenty of daily users have literally no problems related to the plant, and some occasional users consume in unsafe ways,” he says. “Those who begin use early in life tend to show more problems with the plant than those who start when they are older.”
So frequency may not be the be-all and end-all for determining how weed is affecting your health; what time of day you smoke, how you do it, and how young you were when you began smoking are all factors, too.
Readers should note that laws governing cannabis, hemp and CBD are evolving, as is information about the efficacy and safety of those substances. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as legal or medical advice. Always consult your physician prior to trying any substance or supplement.
Jonathan Caukins Ph.D.
Mitchell Earleywine Ph.D.
Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D.
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This article was originally published on April 20, 2016
Cannabis’ impact on your health is still being studied, with decades of legal restrictions slowly lifting.