Smoking pot was always controversial, from both a legal and a health point of view. Since Colorado took the first step in allowing people to smoke their joints, things seem to have relaxed a bit for a while. However, this hasn’t prevented doctors and psychologists alike stopped from studying the long term effects of smoking marijuana for recreational purposes. Last week, researchers found that pot smokers show signs of brain changes, and these changes might prove themselves awfully detrimental on the long term.
The study, available on the Journal of Neuroscience and quoted by Science Daily, tells us about the results found by two doctors when analyzing the long term effects of pot smoking on young subjects. Young adults volunteered for the study and were chosen by the “recreational” criteria of marijuana smoking. None were addicts, nor showed impaired behavior or health problems associated with marijuana smoking. However, the participants showed some brain changes which can translate in the future by lack of focus and impairments in the judgement process.
The study was conducted on a number of 25 subjects, aged 18 to 25, who admitted to smoking marijuana an average of about four days a week, for an average total of about 11 joints, while half of them smoked fewer than six joints a week.
Their brain scans were compared to similar non – pot smoking subjects in the same age group who also matched on criteria such as sex and other traits. According to the researchers,
The results showed differences in two brain areas associated with emotion and motivation — the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens. Users showed higher density than non-users, as well as differences in shape of those areas. Both differences were more pronounced in those who reported smoking more marijuana.
These results, although preliminary and conducted on a small batch of subjects, are consistent with other similar findings. Murat Yucel of Monash University in Australia confirmed that his own similar findings support the hypothesis that pot smokers show signs of brain changes and that the effects of marijuana can occur much earlier than expected. Krista Lisdahl of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, another brain researcher concerned with the brain changes that occur in pot – smoking subjects also backs up these results with her own findings, emphasizing that it is clear that brain changes in marijuana smoking subjects occur even before the dependency begins to develop.
Although these are promising results in the world of neuroscience, they are not enough to draw extrapolated conclusions. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse considers that further research is necessary to shed some light on the previously mixed results found so far in this area of research and that
larger studies are needed to explore whether casual to moderate marijuana use really does cause anatomical brain changes, and if so, whether that leads to any impairment.