This Is (Really) Your Brain On Drugs

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PHOTO: Rachael Leigh Cook “Your Brain On Drugs, Any Questions?

We have all seen the “this is your brain on drugs” commercials. I call them the “egg” commercials. There’s an egg, and a person says, “This is your brain.”  Then the person cracks an egg into a skillet and says, “This is your brain on drugs.”

The egg commercial and other anti-drug campaigns rarely, if ever, educate our children with real, tangible and useful information about drugs. My son has been told by a teacher in his middle school that marijuana kills brain cells, which is a myth. My son said that all throughout his public school education, prescription drugs were hardly ever discussed, but they were one of the most common drugs he could purchase in the hallways of those schools.

Prohibitionists will claim these campaigns are educational. They are not. They don’t educate anyone in any way. However, one of my favorite YouTube channels actually does explain how your brain functions differently on two drugs; marijuana and alcohol.

AsapSCIENCE  publishes weekly science related videos that are fun, educational, interesting and entertaining. I was elated when they published the two videos, “Your Brain on Drugs: Marijuana” and “Your Brain on Drugs: Alcohol” because these are two videos I can watch and discuss with my teenage son, and unlike the egg commercial, he may actually learn something.

Marijuana is the most commonly used ‘illicit’ drug in the U.S. As such, it is important for teens to learn how marijuana changes your brain functioning. To know how marijuana changes your brain functioning, first you have to know how your brain functions without drugs. Neurons are cells that process information in the brain, and neurotransmitters travel from one neuron to another, exciting or inhibiting the next neuron.  If the neuron is excited, the information is passed on. This process is very rapid.

So how does marijuana change our brain functioning when it is smoked? Unlike alcohol, cannabis contains molecules that closely resemble molecules produced in our brains, called cannabinoids. Specifically, THC closely resembles a natural neurotransmitter called anandamide. Neurons “take a break” after firing to keep from being too dominant and to prevent from overreacting, which allows your brain to function in a controlled manner. Cannabinoids interrupt this and cause already active neurons to keep firing, magnifying your thoughts, imagination and perceptions. Cannabinoids also affect the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain, leading to pain modulation, relaxation, euphoric feelings and sometimes anxiety.

Now this is a video where my teenage son actually learned something new. He learned that smoking cannabis will cause your neurons to keep firing instead of resting. He understands how cannabis actually affects your brain functioning now. After watching the egg commercial, he told me he learned that he was very hungry. That was it. He knew it was bullshit.

To summarize, alcohol is one of the most commonly used and abused drugs in the world. As alcohol enters your body, it begins to interact with neurons in your brain. Basically, alcohol removes less significant excitation, and you begin to think about very little, but with high levels of clarity.

After watching the “Your Brain on Drugs: Alcohol” video, my son said he didn’t learn much. He told me he learned about a lot of the information on the video at school. I find this interesting. He said he already knew alcohol was a depressant, and depressants don’t necessarily make you feel depressed. I find this so interesting because while he learned valid information about alcohol inside of public schools, he feels that he never received any real information about illicit drugs, prescription medications, or even over-the-counter medications.

My son did learn one thing from this video; he didn’t know that you think clearly about almost nothing while drunk. I must say I didn’t know that either. He also revealed a good comparison about the two drugs after watching the videos; that cannabis magnifies your thought processes, while alcohol inhibits and slows your thought processes.

Look, if you want your children to be educated with real information about drugs that is useful to them, that will help them to make informed, smart decisions, then you as a parent must do it yourself. There is so much misinformation and non-information out there about drugs of all kinds that, without your help, they are going to be misguided. They are going to feel lied to by people they are supposed to trust as well. One of the best ways I have built a trusting relationship with my son was to teach him about drugs, giving him honest information about a very contentious topic. He deserves honesty, he doesn’t deserve to be scared into submission, and he doesn’t deserve to be lied to about such an important topic, no one does.