Posted on

does weed help grow brain cells

When the rats who had received the cannabinoid were placed under stress, they showed fewer signs of anxiety and depression than rats who had not had the treatment. When neurogenesis was halted in these rats using X-rays, this effect disappeared, indicating that the new cell growth might be responsible for the behavioural changes.

A synthetic chemical similar to the active ingredient in marijuana makes new cells grow in rat brains. What is more, in rats this cell growth appears to be linked with reducing anxiety and depression. The results suggest that marijuana, or its derivatives, could actually be good for the brain.

In mammals, new nerve cells are constantly being produced in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is associated with learning, memory, anxiety and depression. Other recreational drugs, such as alcohol, nicotine and cocaine, have been shown to suppress this new growth. Xia Zhang of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, and colleagues decided to see what effects a synthetic cannabinoid called HU210 had on rats’ brains.

Just like Prozac?

Jacobs says it could be that HU210 and THC do not have the same effect on cell growth. It could also be the case that cannabinoids behave differently in different rodent species – which leaves open the question of how they behave in humans.

They found that giving rats high doses of HU210 twice a day for 10 days increased the rate of nerve cell formation, or neurogenesis, in the hippocampus by about 40%.

Advertisement

In another study, Barry Jacobs, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, gave mice the natural cannabinoid found in marijuana, THC (D9-tetrahydrocannabinol)). But he says he detected no neurogenesis, no matter what dose he gave or the length of time he gave it for. He will present his results at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington DC in November.

A previous study showed that the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) also increases new cell growth, and the results indicated that it was this cell growth that caused Prozac’s anti-anxiety effect. Zhang wondered whether this was also the case for the cannabinoid, and so he tested the rats for behavioural changes.

Does weed help grow brain cells

A large longitudinal study in New Zealand found that persistent marijuana use disorder with frequent use starting in adolescence was associated with a loss of an average of 6 or up to 8 IQ points measured in mid-adulthood. 43 Those who used marijuana heavily as teenagers and quit using as adults did not recover the lost IQ points. People who only began using marijuana heavily in adulthood did not lose IQ points. Two shorter-duration prospective longitudinal twin studies found that youth who used marijuana showed significant declines in verbal ability (equivalent to 4 IQ points) and general knowledge between the preteen years (ages 9 to 12, before use) and late adolescence/early adulthood (ages 17 to 20); however those who went on to use marijuana at older ages already had lower scores on these measures at the start of the study, before they started using the drug. Also, no predictable difference was found between twins when one used marijuana and one did not. 44

Substantial evidence from animal research and a growing number of studies in humans indicate that marijuana exposure during development can cause long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain. Rats exposed to THC before birth, soon after birth, or during adolescence show notable problems with specific learning and memory tasks later in life. 32–34 Cognitive impairments in adult rats exposed to THC during adolescence are associated with structural and functional changes in the hippocampus. 35–37 Studies in rats also show that adolescent exposure to THC is associated with an altered reward system, increasing the likelihood that an animal will self-administer other drugs (e.g., heroin) when given an opportunity (see “Is marijuana a gateway drug?”).

Imaging studies of marijuana’s impact on brain structure in humans have shown conflicting results. Some studies suggest regular marijuana use in adolescence is associated with altered connectivity and reduced volume of specific brain regions involved in a broad range of executive functions such as memory, learning, and impulse control compared to people who do not use. 38,39 Other studies have not found significant structural differences between the brains of people who do and do not use the drug. 40

Marijuana, Memory, and the Hippocampus

Distribution of cannabinoid receptors in the rat brain. Brain image reveals high levels (shown in orange and yellow) of cannabinoid receptors in many areas, including the cortex, hippocampus, cerebellum, and nucleus accumbens (ventral striatum).

Among nearly 4,000 young adults in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study tracked over a 25-year period until mid-adulthood, cumulative lifetime exposure to marijuana was associated with lower scores on a test of verbal memory but did not affect other cognitive abilities such as processing speed or executive function. The effect was sizable and significant even after eliminating those involved with current use and after adjusting for confounding factors such as demographic factors, other drug and alcohol use, and other psychiatric conditions such as depression. 42

Also, the ability to draw definitive conclusions about marijuana’s long-term impact on the human brain from past studies is often limited by the fact that study participants use multiple substances, and there is often limited data about the participants’ health or mental functioning prior to the study. Over the next decade, the National Institutes of Health is funding the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study—a major longitudinal study that will track a large sample of young Americans from late childhood (before first use of drugs) to early adulthood. The study will use neuroimaging and other advanced tools to clarify precisely how and to what extent marijuana and other substances, alone and in combination, affect adolescent brain development.

Some studies have also linked marijuana use to declines in IQ, especially when use starts in adolescence and leads to persistent cannabis use disorder into adulthood. However, not all of the studies on the link between marijuana and IQ have reached the same conclusion, and it is difficult to prove that marijuana causes a decline in IQ when there are multiple factors that can influence the results of such studies, such as genetics, family environment, age of first use, frequency of use, having a cannabis use disorder, duration of use, and duration of the study. Key research in this area to date is described below.