6 Short-Term Effects Smoking Weed Has On Your Brain


Here’s what science has to say about the short-term effects of smoking weed on your brain.

Anna Wilcox
Feb 23, 2017
short-term effects

It’s obvious to anyone who has consumed cannabis that the plant has an almost immediate effect on the brain. Here’s what science has to say about the short-term effects of smoking weed on your brain.

Short-term effects of cannabis smoking on the brain

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Cannabis the perhaps the most famous psychoactive in the world. Even strains high in cannabidiol (CBD), a compound oft considered nonpsychoactive, can elevate mood and ease anxiety.

The effects of cannabis kick in shortly after consumption. Expect dried cannabis flower to have an activation time of 15 minutes at most. Edibles can take between 30 minutes and two hours to fully take effect. Other products, like concentrates, can take hold almost instantaneously.

Once a classic “high” comes about, you can expect some of the following short-term effects in the brain:

1. Mood elation

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The active compounds in cannabis have been found to directly or indirectly trigger the release of certain key neurotransmitters that manage mood.

Both the primary psychoactive in the plant, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and CBD stimulate serotonin receptors in the central nervous system. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is believed to be in part responsible for feelings of happiness and uplift.

Research has shown that cannabis also triggers the release of dopamine, which has a part to play in attention, pleasure, and reward. This dopamine boost may be responsible for feelings of euphoria, pleasure, and can promote focus and concentration in some people.

Compounds in the herb also take the place of another neurotransmitter that the body produces naturally, called anandamide. Anandamide is also known as “the bliss molecule”, and is thought to contribute to feelings of calmness and ease. Anandamide also plays crucial roles in memory, sleep, appetite, and many other key bodily functions.

For more information on cannabis and mental health, take a look at the full article here.

2. Memory alteration

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As many may have already heard, cannabis can affect your memory. Working memory and spatial memory are two primary forms of memory affected by cannabis.

It can be difficult to hold a thought or work mindfully through problems and learning material for a few hours after cannabis consumption.

Spatial memory includes things like remembering where you set down your keys or the way back home from a new restaurant. Spatial memory will be most profoundly effective during the high itself, though it’s not uncommon to experience brain fog for a day or two after heavy cannabis consumption.

Long-term, research has shown that chronic cannabis consumers may have more troubles with verbal memory as they age. One recent study gave cannabis consumers and non-consumers verbal memory tests.

Subjects were presented with a list of words and asked to memorize and repeat them. The study found that consumers lost the ability to remember about one word for every 5 years of cannabis consumption.

3. Differences in attention

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Depending on the dose, cannabis may adversely affect attention. In moderate doses, many people find that the right cannabis strains can promote focus and awareness. However, don’t be surprised if your attention goes caput after smoking a little too much of the plant.

Research suggests that cannabis affects your visual selective attention. A small double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial conducted in 2010 tested the visual attention in 26 participants. Participants were asked to consume high-THC cannabis or a placebo for four days prior to the test.

Those who consumed the high-THC cannabis scored worse in tasks involved with selective attention. The higher the THC, the worse the visual attention. This means that being high might make it a little difficult to focus on complex tasks, which often translates to sensations of spaciness or brain fog.

Though, it’s important to note that certain strains can provide more of a mental fog than other strains, which produce more clear-headed sensations. There is also evidence that cannabis may be beneficial to those with ADD/ADHD, though finding the appropriate dose can be a challenge.

4. Fatigue, drowsiness, fogginess

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There are multiple reasons that cannabis may contribute to drowsiness. For one, the herb is a tranquilizer. This is perhaps why some people swear by the herb for anxiety.

Indeed, early trials and preclinical research suggest that CBD has potent anxiolytic and antipsychotic properties, somehow calming an overly stimulated brain. Further research suggests that both THC and CBD can calm epileptic seizures.

In the laboratory, scientists have discovered that endocannabinoids (the human version of THC) help control something called the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is like the body’s natural clock. It tells us when to go to sleep, when to wake up, and when to eat.

Animal research from 2010 has found that cannabis treatment caused alterations in the circadian rhythm, which may contribute to a skewed sense of time. Yet, more recent research from human participants that daily cannabis consumption was actually associated with improvements with the sleep-wake cycle all around.

5. Potentially reduces inflammation

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In rodent and cellular models, cannabis has proven to be a potent anti-inflammatory antioxidant. This preclinical research is enough evidence for Kannalife Sciences to start drug development. The company is a pharmaceutical research firm that has a special interest in cannabis-based medicines for the prevention of damage caused by concussions.

Some early evidence also suggests that these anti-inflammatory properties may hold therapeutic potential in diseases of aging, like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and other neurological disorders.

In fact, recent research has found that THC can not only reduce inflammation in brain cells, but the cannabinoid may also reduce the presence of a neurotoxin that contributes to Alzheimer’s known as amyloid beta.

6. Additional short-term effects

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Aside from the big five, cannabis can also have the following effects on your brain:

  • Increased anxiety or paranoia
  • Arousal
  • Appetite boost
  • Headache
  • Reduction in pain perception

How to learn more

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Want to learn more about cannabis and the brain? Here are a few related articles to check out:

Anna Wilcox
Feb 23, 2017