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How Substances Affect the Brain During A Pandemic Isolation

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen review studies on drugs’ influences on the brain during the pandemic. They discuss how marijuana and other drugs can affect mental health by worsening bad habits, and how discipline can help maintain a healthy lifestyle in isolation.


Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome to The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome everyone. This wweek we’re going to talk about COVID bad habits, because there have been so many. And some of those shocking statistics about substance abuse, about weight changes, especially in young people-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… are really just out of control. And the last time we did spring cleaning for your mind, and now it’s about forming different habits that serve you rather than hurt you. And it’s been a hard time. It’s been a time of anxiety and worry and isolation and being upset.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

But there are ways to handle it, and there are ways to handle it.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. I agree with this. And substances are a big part of this, the bad habits, but there are other bad habits. We’re going to talk about those as we go along.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Especially around food-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

No, and thinking.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… and Netflix.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. It’s just allowing your self to give in to whatever when you have to comfort yourself.

Daniel Amen, MD:

It’s actually, when you allow yourself to do that, it’s like giving in to a behaviorally disordered child.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. You wouldn’t let a child run through your house, marking on the walls. So why do you allow your internal child, if you will, to just throw temper tantrums and get everything they want and … No, you got to put some discipline around it.

Daniel Amen, MD:

I remember I have this patient, and when I really got down to why he wasn’t eating right and drinking too much, it was, “I want what I want-”

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

What I want.

Daniel Amen, MD:

“… when I want it.”

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I knew you were going to say that. I don’t even know who you’re talking about but I knew you were going to say that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

“I want what I want when I want it.” And-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But the truth is, do you really? Because then you get what you want when you want it and you’re not happy. If you don’t have discipline in your life … I love Jim Rohn’s saying, “We all suffer from one of two pains, the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” And it’s one of my favorite expressions. Because if you don’t have discipline in your life, you are going to have regret. Period.

Daniel Amen, MD:

You guys should write that down. You either suffer from the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah.,He’s got some of the best quotes I’ve ever read. And that’s one of my all time favorites.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And then hashtag Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, post it on any of your social media sites. I know I talk about that a lot, but as we’re growing this brain revolution, as we’re growing The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, it’s just so important to spread the message.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Well, and leave us a review. And if we read it, we will enter you into a drawing to win one of our books. Either Your Brain is Always Listening, a signed copy actually of Your Brain is Always Listening. Or my book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, which is my memoir, so one of these two books. So yeah, share this, pass it on. We’d love to hear from you guys.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So let’s talk about marijuana. It’s such a hot topic and we get so much hate mail when we talk about it. And I often say, “I just have no dog in the fight.”

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I do, but we’re not going into that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

I have no dog in the fight. In fact, if you smoke, I’m more likely to see you than if you don’t.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

It sure helps businesses.

Daniel Amen, MD:

It helps business. But using marijuana before the age of 18 significantly increases the risk of depression, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal attempts and anxiety disorders in young adults.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And if you’re vulnerable, doesn’t it increase your risk of psychosis like 400%?

Daniel Amen, MD:

450%.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

There’s actually two studies out of Norway. And so I just did a Dr. Phil episode of a girl who did marijuana and then just was never the same. Now it doesn’t happen for everyone-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right, of course.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… but if you’re vulnerable. And for me, when I was a teenager, one of my best friends showed me grass for the first time. I had a healthy dose of anxiety, and I’m like, “Why are you doing that? How is that going to help you?” “Oh, man, it’ll help you feel good.” And yeah, maybe, feel good now, but not later, versus now and later.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I remember I tried it for the first time when I was a senior in high school and … So I got talked into it sort of, I never really had an interest because of the craziness in my family. And I ended up with trying it, and I was miserable. First of all, I sat like a bump on a log. People laughed at me because I guess I acted or looked stupid, I don’t know which one it was, probably both. But all I did was eat. And I’m like, “Why would I do this? Why would I want to sit here and eat all day? No, this is not happening.” It felt miserable. I hated it, but-

Daniel Amen, MD:

Well, and it doesn’t mean there are not some medicinal uses-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, 100%.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… for marijuana. For people who have cancer that helps them eat. There’s some evidence with glaucoma. There’s evidence with-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right, pain.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… children who have seizure disorders. So that’s not what we’re talking about, but New York just legalized recreational use. And I’m not a fan of Xanax, I’m not a fan of alcohol, and I’m not a fan of marijuana. And they all have the same reasons. But when I published, I think, the largest imaging study ever done on 62,454 scans, marijuana was the lifestyle habit that prematurely aged the brain faster than alcohol, faster than nicotine, faster than anything else.

It also disrupts the brain’s maturation process. During the teenage [inaudible [00:07:39] the brain is undergoing rapid development and suppressors called myelinization, where the nerve cells get wrapped with a white fatty substance called myelin. It’s like insulation on copper wires, and smoking or ingesting marijuana disrupts that process. And often you’ll hear in drug treatment centers that if a person started smoking pot or doing drugs when they were 16, even though they went into the treatment center at 30, emotionally they’re still 16.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Certainly true with some of my family members who are addicts.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Reduces blood flow to the brain. I published another study on 1,000 cannabis users, showed overall decreased blood flow to the brain. Now people go, “But is it better than alcohol?” And I’m like, “Why are we having this discussion?”

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Why are we comparing?

Daniel Amen, MD:

Because they’re both not good for you. And so now they seem both to be socially acceptable. Like a lot of bad things for you, including the hot fudge brownie is socially acceptable, but not good. If you’re going to-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah, sugar is actually one of the worst things for your brain. So let’s be clear.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you’re going to be a brain warrior, you’re thinking, “What do I love that loves me back?” I had to deal with family this week, with a grandparent with dementia. And it’s like the chronic stress is just unremitting in that family. And the woman just felt like she was a bad person because she could no longer watch her 24/7, her mother. And so she had to go into a care facility and she just felt awful.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And I said, “The number one lesson that comes out of this is you need to take care of your own brain, so your children-”

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Don’t have the same.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… don’t have the same experience you’re having now. Know better, do better.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And during this period of COVID, I mean, anxiety is so high. It’s not like we don’t understand why people are struggling with increased alcohol, marijuana. It’s not like we don’t understand why it’s happening. Even opiates are way, way up, the use and addiction to opiates has gone way up. It’s not like we don’t understand why, it’s just, we want to talk about these bad habits that are happening during COVID. It’s not like they’re going to just go away when all of a sudden things open up, that’s the problem.

So it’s not like you can just get away with … Most people cannot get away with, “Oh, well, I’m stressed. I’m going to do this, and then I’m just going to stop doing it.” That’s not really how it works. So if you don’t have a little bit of discipline around this or develop some other habits to replace those bad habits, do something else instead, then that’s where you get yourself in trouble.

Daniel Amen, MD:

When people are isolated and alone, what else can they do?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

So I’m a fan of finding other things to replace it., Like I just said. So find a tea that you really like, learn how to meditate. I mean, these are things that you need to figure out. When it comes to … I mean, obviously when you’re using substances, you’re trying to alter your state. So really things like meditation are really helpful for that. For me, exercise is huge. So when COVID first started, I was exercising like crazy. And then I felt myself starting to taper off and get a little lazy with it and exercise with less intensity, and I felt my mood change.

But I caught myself. As you get more disciplined and as you have more structure in your life, you start to notice when those things happen. And that’s what I mean by having some discipline around it, because how you move matters as well. When you move with intensity, when you move with purpose, when you do burst type training, you’re going to get a very different feeling in your body and in your mood, than if you are just walking at two miles per hour. Not the same thing. Now, if walking at two miles per hour for you is very strenuous, it’s very stressful, it’s the only thing you can do. Good, then make that your thing. But if you’re a healthy individual, you need to increase your intensity.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So GABA Calming could be an alternative if you’re feeling anxious.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Absolutely, that’s what … I use that a lot.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And it helps you-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Sleep.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… be nicer.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And sleep, and say no less.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And be nicer.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah. Well, you like that I say no less for sure.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Yes, I do. So when we come back, we’re going to talk about more of the COVID bad habits. Leave us a comment, question or review at brainwarriorswaypodcast.com. When you do, we’ll enter you into a drawing to win one of our books. And write down what you learn, and post it on any of your social media sites and hashtag Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

If you’re enjoying The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe so you’ll always know when there’s a new episode, and while you’re at it, feel free to give us a review or a five-star rating as that helps others find the podcast.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you’re interested in coming to Amen Clinics, use the code podcast10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com. For more information, give us a call at eight, five, five, nine, seven, eight, one, three, six, three.