New Evidence Indicates That Marijuana Is Not Harmful To Brain Development

While some previous research appeared to show that marijuana causes lasting negative impacts on the developing brain, new findings from the University of Arizona show that this may not be the case. In fact, the latest findings appear to show that any changes to brain structure disappear by one’s early 30s.

What did the study from Arizona State University look at?

This study used MRI images and measured subcortical brain volumes, cortical brain volumes, cortical thickness, and subcortical thickness. In addition, the researchers had participants self-report their history of adolescent marijuana use ranging from light to heavy.

The researchers performed a single brain scan on participants, which was used to examine the brain structures of participants. All of the people enrolled in the study were in their early 30s, which typically is past the point at which brain development is completed.

Why did other studies find a different result?

Actually, not all previous research reached the conclusion that marijuana causes harmful changes to the developing brain. In fact, most studies that were done in the past found that cannabis does not cause detrimental changes to brain development, which provides strong evidence that cannabis use does not harm brain development.

One reason why some studies concluded that cannabis is harmful to brain development may be that they did not examine participants at a late enough age to determine if the neurological changes observed persisted throughout life. In fact, many previous studies only examined the brains of participants when they were in their early 20s. Furthermore, the studies may have failed to take other factors into account that could influence brain development in a negative manner.

However, it’s also important to note that some studies in the past looked at gray matter density and shape along with the integrity of white matter, which is believed to play an important role in one’s cognitive functioning. Due to the fact that the study from Arizona State University measured different aspects of brain health, it didn’t draw any conclusions on how cannabis could affect these measures of brain health.

Another study recently examined the total gray matter volume and white matter integrity of adults and adolescents who used cannabis within the past 30 days versus those who did not. This study found that cannabis did not appear to produce any changes to either the integrity of white matter or the amount of gray matter.

So, when is the brain fully developed?

It varies somewhat from person to person, but the brain is usually fully developed when an individual is in their mid-20s. However, in some cases, brain development may continue to a small extent in one’s 30s.

Could other substances have been responsible for the brain changes seen in earlier research?

In fact, a study from the University of Colorado found that alcohol use can lead to deteriorations in brain function. There have been other studies that demonstrated that alcohol can be damaging to the health of one’s brain, and a study on the topic that was conducted in 2015 is published in the Journal of Neuroscience. This study found that alcohol has been shown to be detrimental to the brain health of both adults and adolescents. Another recent study found that alcohol use can lead to atrophy of the hippocampus, which has been (likely erroneously) attributed to cannabis use in previous research. It would be expected that young people who use cannabis are more likely to use alcohol than non-cannabis users, and this may explain the findings of previous research that appeared to be inconsistent with the recent Arizona State University study.

Not only could alcohol explain the findings, but young people who purchase marijuana on the black market could be more likely to purchase other drugs illegally as well. There are illicit and prescription drugs that can cause harmful neurological changes when abused.

Even if a survey asks about the use of substances other than cannabis, some participants may not admit to using drugs other than cannabis and/or alcohol due to the stigma associated with the use of these substances. Furthermore, the abuse of such substances is more common than many people would expect, which makes it more likely that the results of marijuana studies on brain development could be skewed by participants who use these drugs.

What kind of marijuana news are we likely to see as a result of these studies?

The recent study is likely to make the general public and those in the medical field more accepting of marijuana overall, which is likely to lead to more encouraging marijuana news.

Mental health professionals may be less likely to view cannabis as harmful

Due to the previous research, mental health professionals have often been quick to point the finger at cannabis as a potential cause of mental health issues in young people. However, the recent study may make some professionals in the field less likely to view cannabis in a negative light.

In addition, another study on cannabis was recently conducted by Harvard Medical School. This study examined the mental health of cannabis users compared to non-marijuana users. Not only did the study examine the mental health of participants, but researchers also collected information about the family history of participants.

The study had 282 participants who were from the New York and Boston regions, and it collected data on 1,168 first degree relatives of participants and 4,291 more distant relatives.The results of this research strongly indicated that previous studies that claimed to show a correlation between marijuana and schizophrenia were not accurate.

As a result of the new research, some practitioners in states that have legalized medical marijuana may be more likely to see cannabis as a potential treatment for certain mental health issues in young people, such as depression and anxiety. In fact, a study from Washington State University found that 93.5% of participants experienced a reduction in their anxiety levels after using cannabis, which provides very strong evidence for the anti-anxiety effects of marijuana.

Doctors might be more willing to prescribe medical marijuana to young people

Due to previous research, many doctors have been quite hesitant to prescribe medicinal marijuana to patients whose brains are still developing, but the latest research has shown that cannabis is likely not harmful to brain development.

Lawmakers may be more likely to support legalization

Concerns about the effects of marijuana on young people has been one of the primary reasons why some legislators haven’t wanted it legalized. The new research may cause lawmakers to be less likely to see cannabis as a potential danger to young people, which may lead to more areas legalizing it for medical and/or recreational use.

Summary

The latest studies add to a large amount of existing evidence that indicates marijuana is an exceptionally safe substance, which doesn’t tend to be harmful to one’s physical or mental health. Furthermore, these studies may change the way that cannabis is viewed by some medical professionals, which may lead to more marijuana news about medicinal cannabis. Future studies are likely to lead to more marijuana news about the increasing body of research showing that cannabis does not tend to cause harmful side effects.

References

https://psychcentral.com/news/2013/12/10/harvard-marijuana-doesnt-cause-schizophrenia/63148.html

https://merryjane.com/health/new-study-alchol-changes-the-structure-fo-the-brain-not-cannabis

https://www.leafly.com/news/health/study-finds-youth-cannabis-use-not-linked-to-adult-brain-structure

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071129121127.htm

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