Remember Kids, Whatever You Smoke, Your Brain Smokes Too
By Cara Santa Maria on June 15, 2011
I’m sitting in front of my laptop at 3 in the afternoon, wearing pajama pants, with Nacho Cheesier Doritos dust on my fingers. (Cheesier than what?) I know what you may be thinking, but sadly, no, I am not high. If I were, this blog would probably be funnier.
I used to smoke pot in high school, but I quit because it started making me so anxious, it wasn’t enjoyable anymore. I know a lot of people who still smoke — a lot — and I’ve generally been on their team when it comes to the whole “smoking weed isn’t dangerous, it can actually be good medicine” argument. We all know about its ability to conquer nausea, reduce the ocular pressure associated with glaucoma, and even alleviate chronic (no pun intended) pain. And other than something my grad school neuropsychopharmacology (impressive, huh?) textbook calls “amotivational syndrome,” the scientific establishment hasn’t made a good case for why people shouldn’t light up every now and then.
But, alas, a new study presented at the Society for Nuclear Medicine’s annual meeting shows that there is a measurable, significant difference between the brains of potheads and those who just say no. Using molecular imaging — injecting subjects with a radioactive isotope and then looking at brain activity in a positron-emission topography scanner — researchers noticed that “marijuana users,” as they call them, have about a 20% decrease in active CB1 cannabinoid receptors.
What does this mean for you? Well, CB1 cannabinoid receptors are one of the places THC binds when it makes its way up into your noodle. They are responsible for making you feel high, but they also seem to have an effect on sense of time, memory, coordination, concentration, and even lasting feelings of pleasure. With less of these active receptors to work with, it is unknown whether smokers actually experience losses in these areas, or if they are able to simply work with what they’ve got. What is known, as the authors of the study report, is that if you quit smoking pot for just 30 days, your CB1 receptor activity will markedly increase, almost back to baseline levels. And I’d venture to guess that the next time you took a bong hit, you’d get really, really high.
Reference: Society of Nuclear Medicine (2011, June 13). Chronic marijuana smoking affects brain chemistry, molecular imaging shows.