Marijuana and Its Psychological Impact

July 17, 2024
By Arch Recovery Center
Explore marijuana and its psychological impact, from emotional processing to long-term mental health effects.

Understanding Marijuana

To comprehend the psychological impact of marijuana, it's critical to first understand the substance itself and its active components.

Marijuana and its Active Components

Marijuana, commonly known as cannabis, is a plant that contains numerous components, or cannabinoids. Two of the most well-known and extensively studied are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the primary psychoactive component in marijuana, meaning it is the compound responsible for the characteristic 'high' associated with cannabis use. It binds to the main cannabinoid receptors in the brain, leading to altered perceptions, mood changes, and impaired motor skills. On the other hand, CBD does not produce this high, and it lacks the psychoactive effects associated with THC [1].

Understanding these two components is critical when discussing the psychological impact of marijuana. While THC is linked to the immediate and long-term changes in brain activity, including effects on mood, appetite, and cognitive functions, CBD has been found to have potential therapeutic benefits without the psychoactive effects.

The Rise of THC Potency

Over the years, there has been a significant shift in the composition of marijuana. Specifically, the potency of THC in cannabis plants has been on the rise, while the levels of CBD have decreased. Between 2001 and 2014, the average CBD levels in cannabis plants decreased from 0.28% to less than 0.15%.

This rise in THC potency has significant implications for the psychological impact of marijuana. As the levels of THC increase, so too does the strength of the psychoactive effects. This can lead to more pronounced changes in mood, cognition, and behavior following marijuana use. Further, the decrease in CBD levels can result in fewer of the potential therapeutic benefits associated with this cannabinoid.

It's important to note that while our understanding of marijuana and its effects has grown significantly, there is still much to learn about this complex plant and its active components. As research advances, we will likely gain a clearer picture of the full range of psychological impacts associated with marijuana use.

Psychological Effects of Marijuana

The psychological impact of marijuana, including its effects on emotion processing, cognitive functions, and mental health disorders, is a topic of ongoing research. With the increasing use of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes, understanding these effects is crucial.

Impact on Emotion Processing

Marijuana use can affect how individuals process emotions. According to Medical News Today, marijuana may reduce the ability to empathize. Research has found that cannabis users respond more intensely to faces showing negative expressions, particularly angry ones, compared to non-users. Conversely, their response to positive expressions, represented by happy faces, was smaller than that of non-users. This may suggest a decreased ability to "implicitly" identify emotions and to empathize on a deeper emotional level.

Implications for Cognitive Functions

Marijuana use has been associated with impairments in cognitive functions. This includes motor coordination, executive function tasks (such as planning, organizing, problem-solving, decision-making, remembering, and controlling emotions and behavior), and learning and applying skills required for successful recovery. These impairments vary in severity depending on factors like the quantity, recency, age of onset, and duration of marijuana use.

Marijuana and Mental Health Disorders

Marijuana use has been linked to several mental health disorders. According to NCBI Bookshelf, cannabis use has been associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia or other psychoses, with the highest risk among frequent users. This risk may be even higher in teenagers and in individuals with a genetic predisposition or strong family history of the condition.

There is moderate evidence of a statistical association between regular cannabis use and increased symptoms of mania and hypomania in individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorders. Cannabis use has also been associated with a small increased risk for the development of depressive disorders. However, there's no evidence to support or refute a statistical association between cannabis use and changes in the course or symptoms of depressive disorders.

Furthermore, any cannabis use has been associated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicide, with heavy cannabis use associated with a larger increase in suicidal ideation.

Marijuana use can result in significant harm for some individuals, including the development of cannabis dependence. It's estimated that 1 in 10 users develop cannabis dependence and that more than 4 million Americans meet diagnostic criteria for this condition [2].

It's important to note that while these findings provide valuable insights into the potential psychological effects of marijuana, more research is needed to fully understand this complex and multifaceted issue. As such, individuals should approach marijuana use with caution and make informed decisions based on their personal health needs and risks.

Long-Term Consequences of Marijuana Use

While the short-term psychological effects of marijuana are often discussed, it is equally important to consider the potential long-term consequences of its use. These can range from impacts on brain development to associations with psychotic disorders and depression.

Effect on Brain Development

Research indicates that the use of marijuana, particularly frequent and prolonged use starting at a young age, can have significant impacts on brain development. Notably, cannabis consumption before the age of 18 can affect synaptic pruning and white matter development, essential processes for brain maturation. Weekly use, especially in high doses resulting in more ingestion of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the main psychoactive component in cannabis - can increase this risk.

Impact on Psychotic Disorders

The link between marijuana use and the development of psychotic disorders has been the subject of extensive research. Current evidence suggests that frequent and long-term marijuana use, particularly when initiated at a young age, may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia or other mental conditions that involve psychosis. This risk appears to be higher in young men or people assigned male at birth, particularly those aged 16 to 25.

Marijuana Use and Depression

The relationship between marijuana use and depression is complex. Current research indicates a moderate risk of developing depression associated with cannabis use. However, it remains unclear whether marijuana directly causes depression or if the association reflects correlating social problems like school dropout and unemployment.

In conclusion, while marijuana use can provide temporary relaxation and euphoria, its long-term use can have serious impacts on brain development and mental health. It's important for users to be aware of these potential consequences and for further research to continue, shedding more light on the long-term psychological impact of marijuana.

The Role of CBD in Marijuana

While discussions around marijuana typically focus on its psychoactive properties, it's important to also consider the role of CBD in the marijuana plant. CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the primary active compounds in marijuana, alongside THC. However, the effects of CBD differ significantly from those of THC, particularly in terms of their psychological impact.

Differentiating CBD from THC

The main difference between CBD and THC lies in their psychoactive effects. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the compound responsible for the characteristic high associated with cannabis use. It can bind to the main cannabinoid receptors in the brain, triggering a sense of euphoria or altered consciousness [1].

In contrast, CBD is not psychoactive and does not induce a high. Despite being chemically related to THC, CBD has distinct properties and does not bind to cannabinoid receptors in the same way as THC. This means that using CBD does not lead to the same intoxicating effects as using THC.

Compound Psychoactive Effects Binding to Cannabinoid Receptors
THC Yes Yes

Potential Health Benefits of CBD

Despite not being psychoactive, CBD has been associated with several potential health benefits. These range from physical improvements to potential benefits for mental health.

One of the most recognized uses of CBD is in the treatment of epilepsy. The FDA has approved Epidiolex, the first medication derived from a marijuana ingredient, specifically CBD, to treat this condition.

In addition to epilepsy, CBD may also help with other conditions such as anxiety. By interacting with the body's endocannabinoid system, CBD can potentially influence the body's response to stress and anxiety, although more research is needed in this area.

Condition Potential Benefits of CBD
Epilepsy FDA-approved treatment
Anxiety Could influence stress response

It's worth noting that while CBD has potential health benefits, it's crucial to consult a healthcare provider before starting or changing any treatment regimen. CBD is available in various forms, including oils, extracts, patches, vapes, and topical lotions. However, its effectiveness and safety can vary depending on the product and the individual's health status. As with all substances, caution and moderation are key when navigating the complex world of marijuana and its psychological impact.

The Risks and Cautions of Marijuana Use

Understanding the risks associated with marijuana use is crucial in raising public awareness about its potential psychological impact. Certain groups, such as teenagers, pregnant women, and individuals undergoing surgery, may face unique risks related to marijuana use.

Risks for Teenagers

Teenagers, in particular, may be more vulnerable to the psychiatric effects of marijuana use. Temporary side effects of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, can lead to adverse psychiatric effects. For some individuals with a genetic predisposition or strong family history of schizophrenia, these effects may act as a catalyst for the condition. Regular or large doses of THC can further increase this risk [1].

Moreover, any marijuana use is associated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicide. Heavy marijuana use is linked to an even higher risk of suicidal ideation [6].

Considerations for Pregnant Women

Pregnant women who use marijuana may face additional risks. Mothers who smoke marijuana during pregnancy may have a higher risk of giving birth to underweight or premature babies. The long-term implications of this are unclear, and it remains uncertain whether these infants face a higher risk of learning difficulties, substance use, or other life problems [4].

Surgery and Marijuana Use

Chronic marijuana users may also face complications during and after surgery. These complications can include needing more anesthesia for sedation, higher risks of heart attacks, low blood pressure, breathing issues, and increased pain after surgery. To prevent potentially life-threatening complications, it is recommended to avoid marijuana use on the day of planned surgery.

In conclusion, while marijuana use can have some therapeutic benefits, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and exercise caution, especially among vulnerable groups. The psychological impact of marijuana use can be significant, and further research is needed to fully understand these effects and develop effective strategies to mitigate these risks.







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