How Does Weed Affect the Brain?
The effects of cannabis are achieved specifically because of how the various cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). A complex system of neurotransmitters and cannabinoid receptors, the ECS operates throughout the human body, occupying the connective tissues, glands, organs, and yes, the brain 4 Alger B. E. (2013). Getting high on the endocannabinoid system. Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science, 2013, 14. .
The cannabis plant contains over 60 cannabinoids, with THC and CBD being among the most studied and discussed 5 Atakan Z. (2012). Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 2(6), 241–254. https://doi.org/10.1177/2045125312457586 . When cannabis is consumed, these cannabinoids bind to and activate the receptors in the ECS, disrupting the various mental and physical functions that are controlled by the ECS 6 Marijuana Research Report. (2020). National Instituted on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/how-does-marijuana-produce-its-effects .
It is this interaction with the ECS that results in both the psychoactive experience enjoyed by THC users, as well as the various positive impacts on many conditions like anxiety experienced by CBD users 1 Blessing, E. M., Steenkamp, M. M., Manzanares, J., & Marmar, C. R. (2015). Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics : the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, 12(4), 825–836. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1 .
This is important to understand before diving into the potential negative impacts of cannabis on the brain. Just because a drug (medicinal or recreational) interacts with the brain does not automatically mean it’s dangerous. All drugs that are meant to impact the brain chemistry interact in similar ways – often, to produce positive results.