Though the world is gradually overcoming the social stigma attached to marijuana smoking, there are still lots of misconceptions about the herb. For years, many people believed that long-term marijuana use impairs human cognitive functions and dulled our brains. Now, how accurate is this notion? You’d be surprised to know that a number of new scientific researchers argue to the contrary. As these studies have found out, there are many ways in which cannabis improves cognitive functions. Let’s check out the details.
10 ways in which cannabis improves cognitive functions
Consumption of pot often produces a host of cerebral effects which we normally associate with being high. It is the presence of the active psychotropic cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in marijuana that is responsible for causing these cerebral effects including feelings of euphoria, relaxation and even altered perceptions. Scientists and physicians will tell you that THC produces these effects by attaching itself to the receptors located in the specific areas of the brain (the hippocampus, amygdala, and cerebral cortex region among others) which control our memory formations and cognitive performances.
Now, do these brain-effects of marijuana leave us with long-term impairments? How do the cerebral effects of cannabis affect our cognitive abilities? For a long time, there was a popular belief that regular marijuana consumption only adversely affected our brain and impaired our cognitive functions. However, in the last few years, our understanding of this issue has begun to change.
There is now growing scientific evidence suggesting that there are many ways in which cannabis improves cognitive functions rather than blunting them. There are multiple studies that have claimed that long-term cannabis use does not cause permanent changes in brain functions. There is a 2017 study, conducted by the Harvard Medical School affiliate McLean Hospital, which reported that a 3 months of medical marijuana treatment normalized the brain functions of the patients and improved their cognitive performances. A separate study on mice, published in Nature Medicinein the same year, claimed that cannabis could reverse the decline of cognitive functions in aging people.
What are the findings of these latest scientific researches? How exactly does pot improve our brain functions and learning abilities? Here are 10 ways in which cannabis can have a positive impact on our cognitive performances.
- The study on mice, which was led by Andreas Zimmer of the University of Bonn, Germany, found out that low doses of THC activated the neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain in the elderly mice and thereby reversed the decline in learning and memory. Though more studies are required, the researchers hope that the anti-aging properties of THC could be equally helpful for improving the memory formation and cognitive performances of elderly human beings.
- The cannabinoids in marijuana are found to be restorative to the homeostasis in brain circuits and protect the brain from cellular stress which causes ageing and impaired cognitive functions.
- The McLean Hospital human trial led by Staci A. Gruber of the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry concluded that medical marijuana can improve cognitive task performances which are regulated by the frontal cortex of our brain.
- Many scientific studies have shown that anxiety is a major factor in declining focus and cognitive abilities. The same is true for chronic pain which is found to be interfering with normal brain functions like learning abilities and executive performances. ‘Symptom improvement’, Gruber writes in their report, ‘may therefore result in improved cognitive performances’. In other words, the reduction of anxiety and pain will help you to concentrate and improve your cognitive performance.
- According to the Harvard-McLean study, cannabis can have yet another indirect positive effect on cognition. As different studies have shown, the use of conventional mood stabilizers and opioid medications can adversely affect brain functions and cognitive performances in the long run. ‘Reduction or cessation of use of these medications may therefore alter patterns of brain activation’ and improve cognitive functions. Cannabis can help you come out of the opioid dependency and help you normalize your cognitive abilities and other brain functions.
- People with bipolar disorders have difficulty in learning and memory formation. There are two different studies that show that medical marijuana boosts cognitive functions in patients suffering from bipolar disorder. It improves their levels of concentration, working memories, psychomotor speeds, verbal learning abilities, and executive functioning.
- As the scientists will tell you, neurogenesis – the process of regular neuron and brain cell production – is essential for cognition and healthy brain functions. Now, it is the endocannabinoid system of our body that facilitates neurogenesis. In the case of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, a weakened endocannabinoid system in the patients halts the normal process of neurogenesis and thus affects normal cognitive and memory functions. The cannabinoids present in marijuana have the ability to boost the declining endocannabinoid system and thereby restore normal brain functions.
- CBD, which has an extensive range of therapeutic properties, is said to have a positive effect on memory formation as well. A University College London study has found that a dose of CBD boosts blood flow to the hippocampus region of the brain, which is responsible for memory formation, and to the orbitofrontal complex region that plays a major role in decision making. Moreover, CBD is found to be offsetting some of the negative impacts of THC on memory performances.
- There are studies that indicate that cannabidiol or CBD can be effective in treating the cognitive impairment of the patients suffering from neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.
- Many physicians and scientists now say that cannabis can be an effective therapeutic intervention for attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Cannabis is found to increase the secretion of dopamine – a neurotransmitter essential for cognitive functions – and thereby increases attention and memory functions improving overall cognitive performances.
With these latest findings from the world of scientific research, we hope that the myth of the dull-headed and lower IQ stoner will be finally busted. However, we need more research to fully understand the ways in which cannabis improves the cognitive functions of our brains. Whatever we have come to know so far on this subject appears quite promising.