What smoking cannabis really does to your mind: Experts reveal the surprising ... trends now

What smoking cannabis really does to your mind: Experts reveal the surprising ... trends now
What smoking cannabis really does to your mind: Experts reveal the surprising ... trends now

What smoking cannabis really does to your mind: Experts reveal the surprising ... trends now

As 4/20 rolls around once again, the unmistakable smell of cannabis will soon be filling parks and student accommodations across the country.

Despite remaining illegal in the UK, the drug is regularly smoked, eaten, or vaped by an estimated 3.1 million people.

But understanding the science of what cannabis does to your mind can be tricky, especially if you happen to have just smoked some. 

From boosting your libido to triggering auditory hallucinations, not all the effects of cannabis are what you might expect. 

So, whether or not you will be celebrating this weekend, MailOnline asked the experts what your brain is really like on drugs.  

As 4/20 rolls around again, MailOnline has asked the experts what your brain is really like on drugs and reveals the strange effects of cannabis you might not know

As 4/20 rolls around again, MailOnline has asked the experts what your brain is really like on drugs and reveals the strange effects of cannabis you might not know 

Cannabis contains two chemicals that are largely responsible for the effects you feel: CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). 

These are able to make us feel high because they are similar to chemicals that our brain produces naturally. 

Throughout our brains and bodies, we have a complex system of chemical signals and receptors called the 'endocannabinoid system'.

Dr Will Lawn, a psychologist from King's College London, told MailOnline this is like a dial which turns up or down the amount of communication between parts of the brain.

Parts of this system called CB1 receptors sit at the junctions of our nerves like traffic lights, slowing down or speeding up the flow of the brain's communication chemicals.

When you consume weed, THC sticks to these CB1 receptors and inhibits the release of certain neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate.

Like a faulty traffic signal, this slows traffic between different brain regions to a crawl and triggers the psychoactive elements of the high. 

Cannabis contains a chemical called TH which interacts with our bodies 'endocannabinoid system'. This interaction alter our brain chemistry in a way that produces a pleasurable high

Cannabis contains a chemical called TH which interacts with our bodies 'endocannabinoid system'. This interaction alter our brain chemistry in a way that produces a pleasurable high 

This has downstream effects on the whole body, but what makes weed hit you the way it does is all due to where these CB1 receptors are most commonly found in the brain. 

Dr Lawn says: 'We see that they are expressed densely in the cerebellum, in the hippocampus and also some limbic regions including the amygdala.

'The cerebellum is key for underpinning movement, the hippocampus is crucial for underpinning movement, and the limbic system is crucial for emotional responses.

'You will recognise those as the three cognitive processes that are substantially affected by cannabis.'

The parts of the brain affected by cannabis are located in the cerebellum (pictured), amygdala, and limbic system. These are linked with memory, movement, and emotional responses

The parts of the brain affected by cannabis are located in the cerebellum (pictured), amygdala, and limbic system. These are linked with memory, movement, and emotional responses 

Short-term memory 

Beyond the general 'stoned' feeling and relaxation, one of the most common effects of cannabis use is a significant reduction of short-term memory.

If you've ever watched the classic stoner film 'Dude, Where's My Car?', you'll recognise the stereotype of the bumbling, permanently confused stoner. 

Since the 1970s researchers have documented that people really struggle to hold and work with information in their short-term memory while high. 

If you can still remember, this is because THC disrupts signalling in the hippocampus and interferes with how your brain processes memory. 

In 'Dude, Where's My Car?', two stoners manage to forget where they parked their car during a binge. Science shows that cannabis does severely affect the short-term memory but the effects don't usually persist

In 'Dude, Where's My Car?', two stoners manage to forget where they parked their car during a binge. Science shows that cannabis does severely affect the short-term memory but the effects don't usually persist

Does cannabis cause long-term memory loss?

Cannabis does not appear to change the brain permanently in a way that would cause reduced memory.

Studies suggest that within 20 days most of the memory effects will abate.

There is a slight link between heavy use and reduced verbal memory but this varies from person to person.

Use in teenagers has been linked to worse educational outcomes but there isn't strong evidence to show that they are more vulnerable to memory problems.

However, teenage users are more vulnerable to cannabis addiction.

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This disrupts the 'working memory', the part of the mind that allows for quick retrieval and manipulation of information. 

Studies have shown that this leads to difficulties with attention and focus in some users.

Oddly, however, studies have also shown that regular heavy users actually get better at concentration tasks after smoking since they are habituated to the effects.  

Although we know for certain that cannabis use affects the memory while it's being used, the evidence for long-term effects is much less certain. 

Dr Lawn says that there is some evidence that long-term use has a small effect on verbal memory but most lingering effects tend to disappear after the user quits. 

'Many cannabis users have a high intelligence and a very good memory,' Dr Lawn says.

'When you look at a comparison between heavy cannabis users and non-users, there's going to be a lot of overlap.' 

There may be some effect on cognitive function and memory in the long term, Dr Lawn explains, but these effects tend to be very small and there is a lot of variation between different users. 

Heavy cannabis smokers may have some reduced verbal memory even while sober, but these effects tend to mostly disappear over time if they quit. The effects also vary so while some experience no memory disruption others may fare worse. Pictured: Cannabis users in Hyde Park on 4/20

Heavy cannabis smokers may have some reduced verbal memory even while sober, but these effects tend to mostly disappear over time if they quit. The effects also vary so while some experience no memory disruption others may fare worse. Pictured: Cannabis users in Hyde Park on 4/20

Slows perception of time 

If you've ever eaten too much of a pot brownie, perhaps on an ill-considered trip to Amsterdam, this effect will be all too familiar.

Cannabis users report that time seems to stretch endlessly as the minutes start to feel like hours.

Research has shown that cannabis use produces an effect known as time dilation.

In one study, participants were either given a placebo or THC injection and were asked to press a button once per second 70 times.

Those who had been given the cannabis dose were notably slower than their sober counterparts, pressing the button every 1.73 seconds compared with every 1.49 seconds. 

Other research has shown that, while high, cannabis users tend to drastically overestimate how much time has passed.  

Stoners like Cheech and Chong (pictured) may feel that time drags out endlessly. Scientists have found that this 'time dilation' effect causes cannabis users to overestimate how much time has passed

Stoners like Cheech and Chong (pictured) may feel that time drags out endlessly. Scientists have found that this 'time dilation' effect causes cannabis users to overestimate how much time has passed 

Other experiments show reaction times fell and decision-making gaps increased after participants smoked weed.  

Scientists aren't exactly sure why this happens but one theory suggests that THC binds to receptors in a part of our brain responsible for our internal body clock.

This region, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, is key for maintaining our circadian rhythm.

THC's disruptive effects could kick this region into a spin, leaving us baffled about the passage of time. 

Scientists aren't sure why cannabis affects the perception of time but it could be because THC binds to parts of the brain responsible for the circadian rhythm

Scientists aren't sure why cannabis affects the perception of time but it could be because THC binds to parts of the brain responsible for the circadian rhythm 

Creativity 

From writers like Seth Rogan to painters like Salvador Dali, many use cannabis to boost their creativity. 

After a smoke you may feel more in touch with your creative side but the science is more complex. 

Cannabis users tend to score higher for self-reported creativity and perform better on measures of 'convergent thinking'.

But once you control for cannabis users' openness to new experiences, these effects vanish - meaning it

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