Can My Brain Heal after Marijuana Use?
Marijuana’s immediate, temporary effects on the brain are what draw people to use the drug again and again. After quitting marijuana, users may begin to wonder about the long-term effects the drug has had on their brains. What damage has been done? What can heal, and what cannot?
Adolescents Are More Vulnerable
During the teenage years, the brain is developing and making connections within itself. Marijuana use appears to interfere with this process. Once this adolescent time period ends, the phase of development that was slowed or altered by marijuana use cannot be returned to.
A study authored by Madeline H. Meier and others, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, looked at IQ scores of adults who had used marijuana in their teen years. After correcting for other environmental factors, the study found that subjects who used marijuana scored eight points lower. In other words, an adult who would have scored an average intelligence would instead settle into the lower third of IQ scores because of marijuana use.
The study suggests that even after years of living without marijuana, the brain may not be able to catch up after the important teenage brain development opportunity has been diminished by marijuana.
A 2011 study from the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that adult brains are able to reverse at least some of the effects of habitual marijuana use after the use is stopped. For instance, the cells in the brain that react to the chemicals in marijuana actually decrease in number over time. They do appear, however, to eventually return to normal levels several weeks after marijuana use has stopped.
Persistence of Memory Loss
The chemicals in marijuana interfere with neurons in a part of the brain that affects memory. The effects can be seen in images made from scanning the brain of a person under the influence of marijuana.
The damage to memory can also be observed by testing the memories of individuals under the influence of marijuana. Participants in a 2003 study led by Dr. Harrison G. Pope showed a lowered ability to perform memory tasks, such as recalling words a short time after they are given, even days after the last time they smoked marijuana. Normal levels of short-term memory performance began to return after abstaining from marijuana for several weeks.
However, there is also evidence that marijuana use over many years may speed up the normal degradation of memory function associated with aging.
Can Brain Health Be Regained?
In short, the chemicals in marijuana clearly affect the brain and interfere with its functioning. For teenagers, some of the effects on brain functioning appear to be long-term. It is not clear how much ability adults have to recover complete, normal brain functioning after marijuana use ends.
However, scientists studying the brain continue to discover more about how it works and how it can change, adapt, compensate and develop over a lifetime. These discoveries often reveal more surprising aspects of the brain’s ability to recover from marijuana use.
Stop the Damage
Stopping marijuana use will stop further damage to your brain and give it a chance to heal. Call our toll-free helpline now to receive more information about marijuana use, recovery and treatment options. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions and offer support.