This is your brain on Marijuana
March 9, 2019 11:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a detailed, rigorous explanation of what happens in our brains when we smoke marijuana. I realize that there are a lot of variables (both in the drug and the people consuming it) so there may not be a single "correct" answer. Perhaps I'm looking for more of a mental model to help understand how THC works.

For example, I'd love to know why cannabis...

* makes eating and listening to music more enjoyable
* allows a deeper level of reflection (on work, life, etc.)
* sometimes increases anxiety
* often leads to productive, creative trains of thought
* makes some types of thought difficult (e.g. memorizing, recalling names)
posted by kamelhoecker to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Tell Your Children by Alex Berenson is about marijuana and its dangers. This article
refers to others who refute his thesis. It might be a good place to start.
Sorry, I couldn't get the hyperlink to work.
posted by Enid Lareg at 1:06 PM on March 9, 2019

You can browse recently-published scientific papers on marijuana and the brain (or pretty much any other topic) at PubMed. Definitely worth a browse.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:04 PM on March 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

This recent Fresh Air episode was eye-opening and fascinating - "A Neuroscientist Explores The Biology Of Addiction In 'Never Enough'." There's an interesting part about marijuana and how it acts on your brain and whether it is addictive or not. Here's an excerpt from that page:
On how marijuana floods the brain

Marijuana is both like cocaine and like alcohol. So it's like cocaine in that its actions are very specific, and it's like alcohol in that those actions are all over the brain. ... It does one thing, but it does it everywhere. So for cocaine, it does one thing, but it does it in just a few pathways. Alcohol does many things all over the place. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, does one thing more or less, but everywhere, and that thing is to enhance communication between cells, to enhance the message. So to kind of turn up the gain or the volume on a particular message that neurons are communicating. ...

When we smoke marijuana, the whole brain is flooded with THC, and that causes the cell-to-cell communication in cells throughout the brain to be enhanced or to be exaggerated. And that's really fun, because it seems like, "Wow, everything is so interesting! Everything is beautiful! The music is so rich! The colors are so wonderful! The food is delicious!" Everything at once is turned on. That's not how the natural system would work with discretion. ...

What's unfortunate is the brain does adapt to that, and it adapts by decreasing the number of sites that THC can have an effect [on]. So those sites down-regulate, meaning they go away over time, and it doesn't take long, but ... the more you use and the more often you use, the less of those receptors there will be. ... When you take away the drug, then things seem sort of lifeless and gray and maybe less interesting.
posted by amanda at 3:57 PM on March 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

Just noting here that THC is by far not the only chemical in cannabis or the only one to affect the mind and body.
"Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals"
posted by mannyfeefees at 7:55 PM on March 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Michael Pollan wrote a book named "The Botany of Desire" that is in part about how Marijuana affects the brain. The explanation was very thorough and straightforward.
posted by xammerboy at 10:46 PM on March 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh, and answers all the questions you listed above.
posted by xammerboy at 10:47 PM on March 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

For a gentle introduction these guys have done a few videos and podcasts on cannabis / THC: greg and mitch cannabis asapscience - Google Search. Maybe worth a peek to get a short overview before diving into papers and such.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:19 AM on March 12, 2019

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