Heavy marijuana use could damage brain & memory- Research suggests

Regular marijuana use by teens is linked to permanent abnormalities in brain in previous studies. Now a new study has showcased marijuana’s effects on the brain. According to the findings of latest study, marijuana, the most common illicit drug smoked by teenagers, may lead to poor memory.

The study found chronic cannabis users who smoked the drug at an early age were at an elevated risk of damaging brain structures vital to memory and reasoning. Youngsters with abnormal brain alterations linked to remembering and processing information scored worse on memory tests than non-using controls.

It’s well documented that adolescence is a period in which the brain appears to be particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of cannabis hence exposure during this period may be hazardous and lead to lower mental flexibility.

Researchers found teenage pot smokers exhibited deficits in cognitive functioning, despite the fact that they had not abused the street drug for more than two years before the testing.

Lead researcher, Matthew Smith at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago stated, “We observed that the shapes of brain structures related to short-term memory seemed to collapse inward or shrink in people who had a history of daily marijuana use when compared to healthy participants.”

Study details
In order to determine whether smoking marijuana excessively can cause damage to teenage brain, the researchers carried out a study. It involved nearly 100 participants who were split into four groups.

These included 44 healthy people who never used pot, 10 who were former heavy cannabis abusers, 28 schizophrenia subjects who never used pot and 15 schizophrenics with a marijuana use disorder. The average age of the participants was mid-20s at the time of the testing but they had begun routine marijuana use in their teens.

In order to examine the negative effects of marijuana on human brain, the team conducted MRI scans of the structure of participants’ brains. Researchers observed that heavy marijuana users, regardless of whether they had schizophrenia or not exhibited shrinkage of regions deep in the brain that are related with memory.

When the groups were given tests to assess memory, the study found heavy users, with or without the mental disorder performed poorly compared to healthy controls and schizophrenics without cannabis use.

“The study links the chronic use of marijuana to these concerning brain abnormalities that appear to last for at least a few years after people stop using it,” said Matthew Smith. “With the movement to decriminalize marijuana, we need more research to understand its effect on the brain.
The study was published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.