What ‘Marijuana’ does to your body and brain

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Compiled by Nsiiro Jacob

It can make your heart race. Within a few minutes of inhaling marijuana, your heart rate can increase by 20 to 50 beats a minute. This can last anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

It can also mess with our sense of balance. It may throw off your balance, as it influences activity in the cerebellum and basal ganglia, two brain areas that help regulate balance, coordination, reaction time, and posture.

It can distort our sense of time. Feeling as if time is sped up or slowed down is one of the most commonly reported effects of using marijuana. A 2012 paper sought to draw some more solid conclusions from some of the studies on those anecdotal reports, but it was unable to do so. “Even though 70% of time estimation studies report over-estimation, the findings of time production and time reproduction studies remain inconclusive.” In 1998 study focusing on the brains of volunteers using magnetic resonance imaging, the authors noted that many had altered blood flow to the cerebellum, which most likely plays a role in our sense of time.

Marijuana may also interfere with how we form memories. It can mess with your memory by changing the way your brain processes information, but scientists still aren’t sure exactly how this happens. Still, several studies suggest that weed interferes with short-term memory, and researchers tend to see more of these effects in inexperienced or infrequent users than in heavy, frequent users. And in some people, weed could increase the risk of depression. Scientists can’t say for sure whether marijuana causes depression or whether depressed people are simply more likely to smoke. But one study from the Netherlands suggests that smoking weed seemed to raise the risk of depression for young people who already have a special serotonin gene that could make them more vulnerable to depression.

Regular use is linked with some specific brain changes — but scientists can’t say for sure whether one causes the other.