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Image of human head with view of the brain.

The Brain 101

It’s the most powerful organ in the body, but do you really know how it works?

It’s the keys to your own personal car. It controls everything you do, including the things you don’t even think about doing. Even the fastest supercomputers humanity has ever designed still can’t hold a candle to its power.

It’s your brain and it’s – quite frankly – you. Every emotion you’ve ever felt, every breath you’ve ever taken, and every movement you’ve ever made has gone through your brain. With all of that responsibility, it’s important to protect your brain to ensure you get to do everything you want to do in life and to keep it at its peak performance for as long as possible.

Imagine that your brain is like a house. All houses are built the same – you start from the ground up. But even though all houses are built the same, some houses are more sturdy than others. A strong foundation and better quality materials are important to make sure that the house can last for years and years to come. However, even if the foundation of the house is strong, when you start to cheap out on materials and stop putting as much effort when you’re building the walls and the roof, the house won’t be as resilient. In this scenario, your teenage years are when your brain – the house – begins to take shape.

During the early childhood years the brain soaks up as much information as it can. It stores general information about the world and how it functions. This is the foundation. But as you enter the teenage years, the brain will start erasing unused information to make room for more relevant and useful info. This is why the actions and habits you develop during this period of brain development are so important: they shape how your brain will function for the rest of your life. The teenage years are a critical time in brain development. New research shows that the brain isn’t even fully developed until age 25!

diagram of brain pointing out the cortex, limbic system and brain stem.

The brain also develops from the back to the front, which means some parts of the young brain are more developed than others.

The Brainstem- The brainstem develops first and controls all of your basic survival functions. It is responsible for breathing, heart rate and body temperature.

The Limbic System- The limbic system is responsible for your emotions. This is where you feel sadness, fear or excitement. Children and teens have an ultra-sensitive limbic system.

The Cortex- The cortex is responsible for things like decision making, long-term thinking, and planning. This is one of the last parts of the brain to be fully developed and that’s why young people tend to engage in more impulsive and risky behavior.

So knowing all of the brain basics, let’s look at how using a substance such as alcohol or marijuana affects the brain.

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