Casual Marijuana Use in Young Adults Leads to Not So Good Brain Changes, Study Finds

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As more states legalize marijuana use, a new study out this week questions whether it is for the better. The study shows young adults using ...

Teens and young adults smoking marijuana, even casually, face significant changes to the brain, according to a study published on Tuesday in The Journal of Neuroscience.

While more is known about how marijuana use impacts addicts, this particular study looked at the long-term effects of marijuana use in young adults using it for recreation.

The study found that young adults smoking marijuana occasionally faced abnormalities to areas of the brain related to emotion, motivation, and decision making. There were volume, shape and density changes occurring in the brain, which is cause for major concern, according to the study’s lead author, Jodi Gilman, a psychology instructor at Harvard Medical School and a brain scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study involved 40 young adults aged 18 to 25, mostly from Boston University. Twenty of the participants used marijuana at least once a week. The other half did not use marijuana in the past year, and used it less than five times in their lifetime.

The study looked at participants’ two regions of the brain – the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala.

Structural changes in the brain were apparent between the two groups of participants. The changes were directly related to how much marijuana was smoked, so the more that was smoked, the greater the change in brain from non-users.

The impact of marijuana, especially to young adults who still have developing brains is a matter that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

As more states legalization the use of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, the general thought becomes marijuana does not have significant bad effects, but that’s not the case, according to this study.

“Some of these people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week,” said co-senior study author Hans Breiter, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a psychiatrist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The thought is “a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.”

Breiter further adds, “I’ve developed a severe worry about whether we should be allowing anybody under age 30 to use pot unless they have a terminal illness and need it for pain.”

 [Source: Society for Neuroscience; Northwestern University.]

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