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Marijuana’s Connection to the Limbic Brain System

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An Australian study recently concluded that a connection exists between heavy marijuana use and limbic brain damage, particularly in the memory and emotion areas. According to the experimental examination, researchers studied 15 heavy marijuana users compared to an age and IQ-matched control group of non-smokers. The study participants were not abusers of other drugs, nor did they exhibit any coexisting psychiatric conditions. The research found that heavy marijuana smokers had smaller tissue volume in the hippocampus and amygdala of the brain, but not in other major areas. This shows the damage is central to the medial temporal lobe, which is involved in both the initial learning of facts and events and their later consolidation.1

Marijuana and the brain show interesting data. The hippocampus and amygdala, part of the limbic system and otherwise known as the “emotional brain,” are in charge of regulating memory, stress response, sleep, appetite, motivation, social cognition, fear, and anger. This system includes both episodic memory, which is the memory of specific events, and spatial memory, which is the general awareness of the surrounding environment. Individuals who have suffered damage to these areas sometimes have a tendency to suffer from many symptoms, which include:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Physical ailments relating to stress
  • Trouble retaining information
  • Loss of memory
  • Confusion

How Marijuana Damages the Brain

What's interesting in comparison to this study is that dysfunction in the limbic brain system has been seen in a number of diseases, consisting of anxiety disorders, dementia, and schizophrenia, as well as bipolar disorder and clinical depression. The long-term use of marijuana on the brain, such as the limbic brain system, may speed up or slow down the central nervous system and deplete necessary functions like blood pressure and heart rate. While the limbic system holds the brain’s reward circuitry, helping to control emotions, the cerebral cortex is also affected. So, the emotional and thinking processing systems are both being altered during the long duration of marijuana use or misuse.

Most studies of marijuana’s effects on the brain have shown similar neurological deficiencies for those heavy users when receiving treatment for marijuana abuse. We also know that quitting marijuana after a period of heavy use can lead to many side effects, including anger, anxiety, appetite changes, depression, stress leading to physical problems, and sleep disturbances.

What Is Considered Heavy Marijuana Use?

Heavy or “chronic use” of marijuana refers to individuals who smoke cannabis daily or multiple times a day. There are many new ways to consume marijuana, such as edibles or vaporizers. In addition, many people will smoke for specific reasons, such as to help with insomnia or anxiety. Usually, people refer to medical marijuana or over-the-counter cannabis. Moderate use would be someone prescribed marijuana or only smokes it occasionally to help in situations like high-stress levels.

Help at the Pompano Drug Rehab

The mature and mindfulness program at Banyan Pompano is a great place to start so patients can understand their intentions during the process. If you have questions about marijuana abuse or the brain on marijuana and how it affects you or someone you care about, don't hesitate to contact the addiction recovery staff at Banyan Treatment Center for further information on treatment and recovery.

We offer an excellent outpatient program to prevent relapse and encourage long-term recovery. Mental health is a high priority to us, so our mental health program offers patients struggling with mood and thought disorders, especially if addiction is increasing symptoms. From substance abuse to mental illness, we are here to help!

Contact our medical team today at 888-280-4763 for more information!

  1. The British Journal of Psychiatry - Cambridge Core
  2. Beginner Grow Guide - What is Considered Heavy Marijuana Use? Grow Guide and Experts Advice

Related Reading:
Can Your Heart Recover From Drug Abuse?
What to Do After A Relapse
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.