Marijuana and the Confused Brain

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There’s little doubt that smoking marijuana causes users to function at less than optimal when it comes to thinking. The term “messed up” reflects the state users want to achieve – one where the higher brain functions are seriously impaired. After all, that’s the point, to escape from their normal selves.

How exactly does this happen? Biochemistry tells us how THC binds to neurons and what happens at the cellular level, but that isn’t enough to explain the global results – inability to “set” memories, lassitude, an inability to make and carry out plans, and the other effects. New research out of Bristol University sheds light on just how the low-level chemistry is affecting the brain overall.

In a report outlining the findings, British researchers found a loss of coordination in the wave-like electrical activity in the brains of rats. The rats were given a substance that mimics THC and binds to the same sites.

The higher cognitive functions of the brain are thought to arise from synchronized firing of groups of neurons, leading to a larger, holistic effect. It is analogous to a stadium full of people doing the “wave.” No one person really creates the overall phenomenon seen from a distance. In fact, some number of people can refuse to participate or jump up with arms extended out of sequence without ruining the structure of the wave. So too with how our brains work. It’s the coordinated group activity that matters.

This loss of synchronization leads to different areas of the brain being out of tune. According to the research, this is why users’ thinking becomes erratic and gives rise to a kind of fractured consciousness. In fact, they point out the process is similar to schizophrenia. This is interesting because it is known that people who suffer from schizophrenia can be “set off” by marijuana use and, in fact, marijuana may elicit symptoms in borderline cases.

While the entire picture of how mentation arises from coordinated brain interactions, this research shows that just looking at cellular mechanisms alone might not be enough – we need to consider the larger picture.

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