Marijuana is a complex drug and affects users in a variety of ways. Marijuana at times can act as both a depressant and a stimulant depending on the strain and the chemical reaction it has in a user’s body. In general, however, marijuana affects the user’s attention span, long-term memory storage, and psychomotor skills involved in tasks such as driving a car. Long-term or even chronic use of marijuana has been linked to a possible onset of psychotic episodes in individuals that may be more sensitive to its use and can produce irreversible damage to brain areas altering normal mental functioning. Since marijuana is composed of over 400 active compounds, correlations into direct relationships that it has on users are still being explored. Some studies suggest however that marijuana is more of a depressant, finding that the prevalence of depression is higher in marijuana smokers than nonsmokers. While specific effects of marijuana are still being explored, any consumption of the drug alters the body’s natural state of being, which can always cause impairments in normal functioning.
One of the reasons that the effects of marijuana are not deterministic is that each user has a different reaction to the type of strain that they ingest. Each person has different natural levels of neurotransmitters in their body and the neurotransmitters play a significant role in regulating mood. Marijuana tends to alter the natural flow of these neurotransmitters and it’s difficult to know in what ways and by how much each of these are affected. In general, weed tends to make the brain function slower than normal and can help to relax muscles and the nervous system, which can mean that neurotransmitters are not operating at the pace that they should be. By slowing down the body, some users may experience relaxation, while for others it can be the onset signs of depression – especially if the use is chronic. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers and is one of the main neurotransmitters that weed effects. In recent studies, cannabis users were found to have significantly lower dopamine releases in the striatum area of the brain. Lower levels of dopamine can also affect mood as it is a neurotransmitter that elicits a “feel good” emotion which can be found to accompany rewarding behavior. Anissa Abi-Dargham, MD, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center stated, “we don’t know whether decreased dopamine was a preexisting condition or the result of heavy cannabis use […] but the bottom line is that long-term heavy cannabis use may impair the dopaminergic system, which could have a variety of negative effects on learning and behavior”. Weed is still being researched on whether it elicits depression or just makes pre-existing conditions worse, but in either case, adding a toxic substance to the body that shouldn’t be there in the first place will always bring consequences.
Another issue with weed is that since it is either illegal or only recently legalized in many states, it still has yet to undergo effective regulation. This brings a variety of problems including a mixture of potency and dosage sizes depending on where it is being purchased. Scientists still have so little information about the user’s responses to the drug because the effects of cannabis can vary from user to user. For example, some users may be able to handle a higher THC (the main ingredient in marijuana that gets a user high) content than others, and the effects can even vary based on how much food you have had that day. How much weed one can handle becomes even more challenging to figure out, given how potent cannabis has become in recent years and all the different forms that it can be found in. A recent study found that THC levels have gone up three-fold since 1995, due to the ability to selectively breed more potent plants. All these factors can increase a user’s chances of eliciting depression symptoms or worse yet, exacerbating preexisting depression.
There is still not enough information yet as to what weed does to each user individually and what consequences come from long-term use. Recent studies have found it to be linked to a variety of brain alterations that can cause the user to operate at disadvantaged levels. As weed continues to become legalized and sold at increased rates, it’s only a matter of time before research is able to shed more light on the damages that come with ongoing use.
If there are people in your life who smoke marijuana on a daily basis and exhibit signs of dependence on weed, suggesting and looking for medical advice may be a significant help in cessation before depression (or any other effects of use) are elicited or exacerbated. Doing research and finding out what effects a substance has on the body is a good resource in deciding if some of the long-term side effects are worth the high.