How Marijuana Affects the Brain December 6th, 2019 The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake
Blog & News How Marijuana Affects the Brain

How Marijuana Affects the Brain

A man holding marijuana in a container to show its effects on the brain

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that’s a controlled substance. Many states, however, have moved to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana use. Even though attitudes about marijuana are shifting, there are potentially negative effects that can occur with its use. To address safety concerns, it’s important to understand the effects of marijuana on the brain in particular.

Short-Term Cognitive Effects

What are the short-term effects of marijuana on the brain? When someone uses marijuana, the THC and the many other chemicals it contains pass into the bloodstream. The desirable effects many people seek when they use marijuana include euphoria and relaxation. Other potential short-term effects of marijuana use include changes in sensory perception, altered perception of time and an increase in appetite.

Some people may experience extreme anxiety, or a sense of panic or paranoia when they use marijuana. These risks are possible when someone takes a dose of marijuana that’s very potent, or they use a lot of marijuana at once. Large doses of marijuana can cause symptoms of acute psychosis. Symptoms can include hallucinations and delusions.

Long-Term Cognitive Effects

There are possible long-term effects of marijuana on the brain, and these effects are profound on the developing brain. Some of the potential long-term effects of marijuana on the brain include:

  • Changes in the hippocampus area of the brain
  • Changes in the reward system
  • Functional impairment in cognitive abilities
  • Possible memory impairment

How Marijuana Affects the Adolescent Brain

How marijuana affects the adolescent brain may be much more severe than the adult brain. For example, studies show that since THC affects the hippocampus in the brain when adolescents use marijuana regularly, it may also impact their learning ability and memory later in life. Additionally, cognitive impairment was indicated in animal studies where rats were exposed to marijuana in adolescence.

When someone regularly or chronically exposes their brain to THC, it can also speed up the loss of neurons in the hippocampus. For example, one study where rats were exposed to THC every day for eight months indicated there was brain cell loss that was the same as animals not exposed to THC nearly double their age.

Sometimes marijuana is referred to as a gateway drug, which means it’s a drug that teens who use may go on to eventually use other drugs. For example, a teen marijuana user may want to seek out stronger drugs for more powerful highs. Those stronger drugs will likely have detrimental impacts on their brains.

There is still a lot of research that needs to be done examining the effects of marijuana on the brain and especially how marijuana affects the adolescent brain. As it stands, there are some potentially troubling effects. The best way to avoid the negative impacts marijuana has on the brain is to avoid the substance.

Find Help for Marijuana Addiction

If you’re struggling with marijuana or live with a substance use disorder, reach out to The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. Call to speak to a representative who can inform you about the professional treatment plans designed to address your specific needs. You deserve a healthy future, call today.



NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain?” June 2018. Accessed April 12, 2019.

Gowin, Joshua. “7 Short-Term Effects of Marijuana on the Brain.” Psychology Today, July 28, 2014. Accessed April 12, 2019.

Wallis, Claudia. “What Pot Really Does to the Teen Brain.” Scientific American, December 1, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2019.

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