Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC is one of the hundreds of cannabinoid compounds found in marijuana that affect dopamine and other neurotransmitters to create the euphoric high feeling that users experience when smoking or ingesting the drug. Through ongoing research, scientists are also learning more about how the drug alters mood and psychological thinking.
Scientists from the Medical Schools of Harvard and Northwestern University found that even occasional marijuana use affects two important areas of the brain that regulate emotion and motivation. Studies already uncovered that individuals smoking more than 20 marijuana cigarettes weekly over the course of several years develop lesions in their brains. Now however, a more recent study found that these growths may occur in users who profess smoking as little as once a week. Along with the lesions, researchers viewed anatomical changes in brain tissue density, shape and volume. When neurons undergo exposure to the drug, the brain responds by creating additional neuronal connections in order to release greater quantities of the neurotransmitters affected by marijuana. These physical changes play a large role in how marijuana users experience and display emotions.
When someone is under the influence of marijuana, they become emotionally and mentally disassociated from the reality of their environment. Some theorize that marijuana users experience irrational anger, anxiety or paranoia due to changes in serotonin levels. While high, users feel mentally and physically relaxed. Because of the chemical changes that take place, the brain learns to block emotions from emerging. The drug also has the ability to alter perceptions of reality. With extended use, altered brain chemistry causes individuals to lose the ability to correctly respond to situations and overreact as buried emotions flood to the surface. Though these changes affect all marijuana users, health care providers warn that young people who do not have fully anatomically mature brains run the greatest risk of suffering from permanent effects.
Commonality of Anxiety
Surveys suggest that up to 30 percent of people who use marijuana habitually for recreational purposes experience anxiety and panic attacks. Along with affecting dopamine and serotonin levels, marijuana also affects norepinephrine, which is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for the “fight or flight” response. While the initial high may reduce anxiety levels, a paradoxical event occurs that stimulates the release of excitatory neurotransmitting chemicals leading to increased anxiety, depression and paranoia.
Anxiety, depression and irritability may also occur when someone unknowingly addicted to marijuana goes through withdrawal according to research conducted by the Health Services at Columbia University. The gamut of emotions felt range from anger and aggression to depression and agitation. Studies on the subject reveal that subconscious emotions may also release during sleep resulting in bizarre or strange dreams suffered by individuals after they stop using the drug.