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Early marijuana use can hamper brain function, says study

Early marijuana use can hamper brain function, says study

02-27 | CDAH Team

Of all the addictive substances, marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. While some prefer to smoke cannabis for its psychedelic effects, others prefer it for its medicinal properties to get relief from pain and suffering resulting from trauma and prolonged suffering.

In the U.S., 29 states, including the District of Columbia, have legalized cannabis in some form, allowing it to be used by an increasing number of people. Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) decision against rescheduling marijuana while thumping down all pleas by various organizations to reconsider placing the same in Schedule II has drawn a lot of flak from the supporters of cannabis use. However, a recent study may indicate that the DEA may not be completely wrong in its decision.

The study, titled “Depression, marijuana use and early-onset marijuana use conferred unique effects on neural connectivity and cognition,” found that early marijuana use might lower IQ and cause an abnormal brain function.

The findings, published online in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica in August 2016, underlined the observations made by previous studies –– early marijuana users are at a greater risk of suffering from dysfunction in cognitive ability and mental health problems, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Elucidating the purpose of the research, co-author Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, a scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute, Canada, said, “Many youth in our program use marijuana heavily and, despite past research, believe it improves their psychiatric conditions because it makes them feel better momentarily. For this reason, we decided to study the effects of marijuana and depression on psychiatric symptoms, brain function and cognitive function.”

The scientists divided 74 young respondents into four groups. Those classified in the first group suffered from depression but had never used marijuana. The second group consisted of healthy respondents with no history of marijuana use. Respondents who were using marijuana since they turned 17 were included in the third group. The rest of the participants, including those who never used marijuana or had started consuming it at later stages, were included in the fourth group.

Marijuana can worsen brain function in mentally ill

The scientists carried out psychiatric, cognitive and IQ testing along with brain scanning on the respondents. There was no evidence of marijuana use reducing symptoms of depressive behavior. Not much difference was observed in the degree of signs of mental health problems between depressed people resorting to marijuana use and other depressed people who had not used marijuana. The scientists also found differences in brain function among respondents included in the four groups. The distinctions were noted in areas of the brain associated with reward processing and motor control.

Marijuana use showed no positive effects on the brains of the respondents and in some regions, the cannabis only worsened their condition. It was observed that participants who had been using marijuana from an early stage had extremely aberrated brain function in areas linked to visuo-spatial processing, memory problems, self-referential activity and reward processing. Apart from these, marijuana use from early stages of life was linked to lower IQ scores.

Elaborating on the observations, Osuch added, “These findings suggest that using marijuana does not correct the brain abnormalities or symptoms of depression and using it from an early age may have an abnormal effect not only on brain function, but also on IQ.”

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If you know someone suffering from addiction to any kind of substance, including marijuana, and is seeking treatment, contact the Colorado Drug Addiction Helpline to get help in finding the top drug addiction treatment centers in Colorado. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-218-7546 or chat online to know about some of the best drug rehabilitation centers in Colorado.


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