Orlando Health: What Really Happens to Your Brain on Drugs?

Orlando Health: What Really Happens to Your Brain on Drugs?
Nemade Dipali, MD
Epilepsy (Neurology)

We think we know the risks associated with common drugs, but our brains are suffering far more damage than we may realize. Here is what is really happening to your body with short-term and long-term use of these substances.


Many states have relaxed laws on medical or recreational marijuana, which means the amount of THC, the component responsible for the high and tendency toward addiction, can vary greatly. Without regulation, this drug isn’t a safe, pure substance.

Short-term effects

  • Decreases anxiety or bodily tremors
  • Alleviates depression or headaches. However, it’s hard to know if the drug relieves these symptoms or simply makes people feel so high that they no longer feel the symptoms.

Long-term effects

  • Early-onset memory issues due to shrinkage of the hippocampus, aka the memory pathway.
  • Decrease in IQ. People who habitually rely on marijuana for more than five years will see a significant loss in brain function compared with their peers who did not use. By comparison, alcohol causes a 1.5 point decrease in IQ, whereas marijuana is responsible for a loss between 5 to 7 points.
  • Long-term use exacerbates anxiety. Once you are addicted, you may suffer panic attacks.
  • Vascular dementia, which appears as memory issues.
  • Shrinkage of the overall brain
  • Cardiac issues, including high blood pressure
  • Can trigger underlying psychiatric disorder

There are safer, more effective treatments for stress and anxiety, including mindfulness classes, exercise, therapy and yoga.

ADHD Drugs

This drug has been prescribed at a rate of 60% greater than it was in the last decade. Although it is possible that more of the population is struggling with ADD, it’s more likely that this drug is being abused by students and others looking for an extra mental boost.

Short-term effects

Your focus and attention will increase, aiding in work or studies.

Long-term effects

You can easily get addicted to Adderall. The potential for dependency is high. Your doctor may eventually conclude that the drug is doing you more harm than good, ending your prescription. If your use is not monitored by a physician, you’re at greater risk for health problems.

  • Early onset memory issues
  • Seizures
  • Panic attacks
  • Heart issues, including hypertension and heart attack
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Onset of psychiatric disorders, such as mania or psychosis, in people who have a latent predisposition to mental health problems

Psilocybin Mushrooms

Few studies have been conducted on the effects of mushrooms. The FDA hasn’t approved this drug to treat any condition.

Short-term effects

Mushrooms can help decrease anxiety.

Long-term effects

Not much is currently known about the long-term effects of mushrooms. This drug can cause:

  • Acute psychosis
  • Acute anxiety and panic attacks
  • Heart issues, including sudden cardiac death
  • Prolonged use causes the amygdala to atrophy, which leads to paranoia and an apathetic state wherein nothing matters. When you’re supposed to feel sad, you don’t. You experience the same blank emotional state when you otherwise would have felt happiness or sadness.


This medicine has FDA-approved uses, such as for some types of seizures and refractory depression. It works much like a restart for your body, much like rebooting your computer.

Short-term effects

  • Short-lived euphoric feeling
  • Racing heart
  • Pain relief
  • Ketamine suppresses your memory pathways, so you forget stress.

Long-term effects

  • Risk of cardiac arrest
  • Long-term memory loss, caused by damage to the frontal lobe and temporal lobes
  • Ketamine alters the complex ways that different parts of the brain interact. For example, ketamine can cause you to see music, which you’re not supposed to experience visually. This drug creates disorienting hallucinations.

Energy Drinks and Excessive Caffeine

Healthy adults shouldn’t consume more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. This is equal to about four, 8-ounce cups of coffee or 10 cans of caffeinated soda. For teens, the limit should be 100 mg per day or less. This equals one 8-ounce cup of coffee or about two cans of caffeinated soda.

Excessive amounts of caffeine are found in many energy drinks, which can cause further harm because they’re loaded with added sugars, additives, legal stimulants such as guarana, taurine, and L-carnitine, as well as other unlabeled and unknown ingredients.

Short-term effects

  • Alertness, attention, and energy
  • Increase blood pressure, heart rate and breathing

Many of the adverse effects of energy drinks are related to caffeine intoxication. Common features of caffeine intoxication include:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Excitement
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Excessive urination
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance
  • Muscle twitching
  • Rambling flow of thought and speech
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Periods of inexhaustibility

In caffeine intoxication cases, hypertension, hypotension, arrhythmia, and seizures have been reported, and may result in death. The risk is even higher when caffeine is combined with alcohol or other stimulants.

Long-term effects

  • Physiologic dependence
  • Increase the risk of subsequent addiction
  • Headaches/migraines
  • It is linked to increased substance abuse and risk-taking behaviors.
  • Damages cardiovascular health and can cause or worsen heart muscle dysfunction, hypertension and arrhythmia
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight gain
  • Increased risk of strokes and early onset memory issues

If you’re experiencing any of these negative symptoms, talk to your doctor about safe ways to cut back or quit using these drugs.


Source: Orlando Health, www.orlandohealth.com


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