Stinky and The Brain: Will Getting High Actually Improve Brain Function?

By Dylan O.
Throughout this discussion we will examine the nature of the endocannabinoid system, neurogenesis, recent studies that suggest a much brighter reality for marijuana smokers, and medical applications that validate said hypotheses.

We have all heard (or at least feel like we have) grumpy old farts expound, “Those dopers just sit around taking their pots all day and killing brain cells! Back in my day...” —so on and so forth. However, many moguls and innovative thinkers have used marijuana and still found their way into the history books. So, the question remains, “Does marijuana actually diminish brain function?”

Neurogenesis & The Endocannabinoid System

Neurogenesis is the continuous formation of neurons in the brain, and is believed to play a large role in certain cognitive functions such as learning and memory. While this process initially was believed to only occur in the womb, researchers in the late 20th century found that our brains continue to produce new neurons, but at a much slower rate and magnitude as we age.

Throughout adulthood, the process of neurogenesis occurs in the subventricular and subgranular zones of the brain, and the production of neurons has a bigger effect on one’s ability to discern similar memories from one another, as well as spatial orientation. The process of generating new neurons has been found to improve many other functions of the brain as well, such as learning processes, decreasing stress, and the uplifting and balancing of one’s moods.

Essentially, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for the development of neurogenesis. To put this in perspective, certain degenerative neuro-disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s Disease have all been linked to shifts in the well-being and functionality of the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system is also the very mechanism that our brain uses to interact with the psychoactive molecule THC. So, when one ingests marijuana, the CB1 receptor in the brain is triggered, and the process of neurogenesis is turned on. However, this process is passive, and if you smoke with the expectation that you will all of a sudden have a wonderful memory you may be sorely disappointed.

While under the influence of cannabis, cognitivity and memory loss are certainly not at their best, but in the long run it will not have any detrimental effects on one’s brain functions.

The Harvard Study

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Behavioral scientists and medical researchers from McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Tufts University behind the study “Splendor in the Grass? A Pilot Study Assessing the Impact of Medical Marijuana on Executive Function” assessed and recorded the performance of 24 certified medical marijuana patients over the course of a 3-month dosing period.

Cognitive proficiency tests such as the Stroop Color Word Test and the Trail Making Test were conducted to measure the cognitive function of said patients.

What researchers found, was that the patients displayed signs of heightened cognitive performance such as enhanced speed and accuracy. A report from McLean Hospital regarding the study expounded:

“Study participants also reported improvements in their specific clinical conditions, sleep, and overall health as well as a decreased use of conventional medications, particularly opiates.”

While this is merely one study, other studies have been conducted by various researchers from other Universities to determine other effects of marijuana on the brain.

The Aging Mice Studies

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A couple of studies conducted by researchers at both the University of Bonn in Germany, and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem both tested the effects of THC on 2-month-old, 12-month-old and 18-month-old mice to determine if age plays a part in its effects.

After THC was administered to the young mice, they found that their performance declined in behavioral tests, memory tests, and overall learning capacity. What’s more, is that the aged mice performed the same as the young mice who were administered THC, without being dosed; however, when they were dosed, they exhibited increased performance that was parallel to that of the untreated young mice.

While these results are exciting, it is important to remember that performance of the young mice was indeed worsened by the THC as opposed to the increased performance exhibited by that of the aged mice. 

Other Medical Applications

Aside from these studies that reveal an increase in overall long-term performance in general medical marijuana patients and the increase in cognitive performance in the elderly, it has also been found to be a combatting force for other ailments and conditions.

  • Alzheimer’s Disease: When administered to patients with Alzheimer’s, THC diminished symptoms of agitation and increased appetite. Both THC and CBD have also shown their capacity as preventative measures to slow down the neuro-degeneration that is involved with the disease, and in some cases, can even halt the progression of the disorder. 

  • Seizures, Strokes & Brain Trauma: THC and CBD have both proved to be effective precautionary methods for those with epilepsy or who are otherwise prone to seizures. 

    When it comes to those who have suffered strokes, THC and CBD are adequate measures of post-stroke relief and preventing further damage on the brain. 

    For those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries such as concussions and other various traumas, both compounds have been found to reduce the amount of harmful inflammation that can decrease brain function and slow the healing process, thus allowing for a faster and more thorough recovery. 

  • Reduction of Brain Tumors: The healing wonders of THC and CBD have also been found to be effective in halting the spreading of tumors in the human body, particularly in the brain. These cannabinoids actually inhibit the growth of tumors and can prove to be an effective measure to ensuring the survival of one who is afflicted with such a condition.

Moderation is Key

While various studies regarding all different facets of THC’s effects on the brain have been conducted and come back with magnanimous results, it is important for you young bucks to remember that smoking a lot of cannabis is not going to make you smarter or better just because it works for others under specific circumstances.

However, using marijuana as opposed to conventional prescription medications is far better on one's brain and will have much better results in the long-run. 

With that being said, if you have conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, Parkinson's, or have suffered a stroke or brain injury, consult with your physician to gain a broader perspective and see if THC and/or CBD are the medicines for you. Otherwise, use with moderation, and don’t be disappointed or surprised if you rip the bong before your final and receive a D+.

Citations

1. Subventricular zone. Retrieved February 12, 2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subventricular_zone

2. Cannabinoid receptor. Retrieved February 12, 2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabinoid_receptor

3. Cognitive test. Retrieved February 12, 2018 from http://www.writeopinions.com/cognitive-testing

4. Splendor in the Grass? A Pilot Study Assessing the Impact of Medical Marijuana on Executive Function. Retrieved February 12, 2018 from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2016.00355/full

5. Harvard Study: Smoking Weed Improves Brain Functions. Retrieved February 12, 2018 from https://www.thekindland.com/wellness/harvard-study-smoking-weed-improves-brain-functions-2330

6.Janice Williams Does Marijuana Make You Lazy? THC Effects Include Sluggish Behavior, According To New Lab Rat Study. Retrieved February 12, 2018 from http://www.ibtimes.com/does-marijuana-make-you-lazy-thc-effects-include-sluggish-behavior-according-new-lab-2407124

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About the author: Dylan O.

Dylan O. is a freelance writer, musician, speaker, and spiritual healer. He has ample experience in the cannabis industry and is an advocate for the many healing properties of cannabis. He strives to educate others about cannabis and to assist in diminishing the stigmas that surround it with his sophisticated writing style and personal approach.