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Marijuana use may damage brain

As lawmakers and American citizens across several states push for the legalization of marijuana, medical experts suggest smoking an occasional joint may not be healthy. In a new study released this week by the Journal of Neuroscience it’s suggest there may be a link between casual pot use and changes or abnormalities in the brain. The significance of the changes, however, could depend on the number of joints smoked each week.

How did the researchers conduct their studies?


In the study, scientists reviewed the brains of forty young adults who were enrolled in Boston colleges. The students were between the ages of 18 and 25. Half of the study enrollees smoked pot once per week while the other students did not. Using high-resolution MRIs to track users and non-users' results scientists concluded there were “observable differences in brain structure with marijuana use even in young adult recreational users.”

Under observation were the areas of the brain which were “involved in emotional processing, motivation and reward, called the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala.” Researchers noted abnormalities, although joint users did not report issues performing work at their jobs or at school or negative effects on their relationships.

Dr. Hans Breiter, co-senior author of the study and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, decided to study recreational pot use after becoming increasingly concerned about the recent legalization efforts. Many proponents of legalizing marijuana claim there are no negative effects of marijuana use, but Dr. Breiter disagrees.

"This research with the other studies we have done have led me to be extremely concerned about the effects of marijuana in adolescents and young adults and to consider that we may need to be very careful about legalization policies and possibly consider how to prevent anyone under age 25 to 30 from using marijuana at all," she said.

What about marijuana use in young adults?


Other experts have been concerned with pot use by young adults for quite some time, noting there have been previous studies which have indicated that those under the age of 25 could have increased risk of lower IQs, higher risk of strokes and decreased ability to perform tasks efficiently.

This new study confirms these conclusions and suggests that more information is needed about the effects of pot use for individuals who are only emerging into adulthood and who may have increased vulnerability during such a critical time of development. And while scientists may still debate what age is too early to use pot, it seems most scientists agree that any use prior to the age of 16 can decrease the ability to “complete tasks requiring judgment, planning and inhibitory function as well as changes in brain function and white matter microstructure relative to those who start later."

How serious is the marijuana problem?


Marijuana use has been increasing among teenagers and young adults at an unprecedented rate. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health believes as many as nineteen million Americans used marijuana in 2012.
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