Dr. Frank Explores How Cannabis Impacts Brain Development

Article by Cannabis Culture

Dr. Frank Explores How Cannabis Impacts Brain Development

The fact is, no one can say what definite effect months or years of cannabis use has on the brain, as there just isn’t enough research out there to say for sure. Moreover, the human brain (or indeed any type of brain) is incredibly complex, and there are all sorts of stimuli that will affect its development over the course of its life. Whether or not a person uses marijuana is just one small piece of the puzzle.

Marijuana definitely has an effect on the brain in the short-term, but determining the long-term effects of regular consumption will be difficult to tell, especially as it’s still federally illegal and therefore difficult to study properly. When we mention the “developing brain”, most people think of the teenage years. Yet, in reality, the brain is in constant development, and can be roughly broken down into five main ages. We shall use these five ages to break down marijuana’s effects on the brain throughout all the brain’s development stages …


The brain develops within 3 weeks of conception. In the third week, the neural plate is formed, and by the fourth week the neural plate widens to form the cephalic (the concentration of nervous tissue) end that forms the head of the baby. By the fifth week, the basic structure of fore, mid and hindbrain is developed. By 9 months, the baby has 100 billion brain cells and millions of support cells.

We know that alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy has a negative effect on prenatal brain development. But what about exposure to cannabis? Marijuana use during pregnancy shows weak links between fetal cannabis exposure and congenital anomalies or preterm delivery. There is no evidence that cannabis has similar effects as fetal alcohol syndrome, although there have been some reports. Cannabis use does not seem to be associated with low birth weight or preterm birth.

However, this is not to say there aren’t any negatives to cannabis use whilst pregnant. Cannabis exposure affects fetal growth trajectories, learning development and memory impairment in exposed offspring. Post-birth, studies so far show that there is some correlation between neonatal marijuana exposure and behavior. Prenatal marijuana exposure was associated with increased tremors and startles, and poorer habituation to visual stimuli.

Though there aren’t a huge number of studies on prenatal cannabis exposure, it is fair to say that so far the evidence shows that cannabis use during pregnancy is negative. However, the research mostly focuses on THC and generalized cannabis use, not non-psychoactive cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD). In fact, CBD may be helpful to help ease the pain and stress of childbirth, and studies on mice have shown no effects with regards to prenatal CBD exposure.

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