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Cannabis And Cognitive Functioning Essay

1599 words - 7 pages

Cannabis and Cognitive Functioning
Andrew McKeever
Bucknell University

Cannabis and Cognitive Functioning
The debate concerning recreational and medical use of cannabis has historically been incredibly controversial and its popularity is increasing. Many claim that there are no downsides to its use, often falling back on the “alcohol is worse for you” argument, while those who oppose its use say otherwise. In 2013, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) surveyed 70,000 Americans 12 years and older and found that 7.3% of Americans regularly used marijuana in 2012, showing a rise in use over the last several years. While cannabis is still considered an illegal substance in the majority of the country, several states are beginning to shift their views, allowing for the use of medical marijuana in some and even full legal recreational use in others, such as Colorado. The main question driving this debate is how does cannabis affect the mind? Legalization very much depends on peoples’ health and safety concerns, and so in this paper I discuss cannabis and its effects on cognitive function both short- and long-term.
Cannabis is the substance originating from the plant Cannabis sativa, which can be found in regions all over the world (Solowij, 13). The plant itself contains more than 60 cannabinoid compounds, but the primary psychoactive compound is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (Gaoni & Mechoulam, 1964). Howlett and Colleagues found that cannabinoids inhibit the enzyme that synthesizes cyclic AMP in cultured nerve cells. As many receptors relay their signals to the cell interior by changing cellular cyclic AMP, this evidence suggests that cannabinoids were not just dissolving nonspecifically in membranes, but rather acting through their own receptors (Howlett et al., 1986, 1988; Howlett, 1987). High densities of receptors located in the hippocampus and cortex suggest roles for the cannabinoid receptor in cognitive functioning (Bidaut-Russell et al., 1990). This would suggest that the main effects of cannabis must be cognitive.
The “high” that is achieved from recreational use of cannabis is an altered state of mind that is characterized by emotional changes such as mild euphoria and relaxation as well as perceptual changes such as time distortion and changes in sensory experiences (Tart, 1970; Jones, 1980; Jaffe, 1990; O’Brien, 1996). Often times, especially for inexperienced users, there are reports of feelings of anxiety, panic attacks, and depressed mood. During acute intoxication, concentration, short-term memory, motor skills, reaction time, and motor coordination can become impaired, making it difficult to maintain goal directed mental activity (Hollister, 1986; Jaffe, 1990; O’Brien, 1996). Emrich et al. (1991) showed that binocular depth inversion is hindered by cannabis, which suggests that the central nervous system is unable to correct unrealistic sensory input while intoxicated....

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