Using Cannabis Once a Week Harms Brain
Byline: Ben Spencer
SMOKING cannabis even casually can damage core structures of the brain, a study has found.
Just using the drug once or twice a week affects the size and shape of two key brain areas involved in emotion and motivation, research shows.
Previous studies have focused on heavy users of cannabis - revealing that the active compound in the drug effectively 'rewires' the brain.
But this is the first study that has revealed the impact of casual marijuana use. The scientists, from Harvard Medical School and Northwestern University in Chicago, analysed MRI brain scans of 20 young cannabis users aged 18 to 25.
They compared them to the brain scans 20 young people who never smoked the drug.
Professor Hans Breiter, one of the researchers from Northwestern University said: 'This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use is not associated with bad consquences.' The scientists found major differences in two brain areas, the nucleus accumbens and amygdala. Both are linked to emotions and motivation, and also associated with addiction.
In each case changes were seen that were directly related to how much cannabis was smoked.
The nucleus accumbens of cannabis users was unusually large, while the amygdala was deformed. Professor Breiter said: 'Some of these people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week. People think a little recreational use shouldn't cause a problem, if someone is doing okay with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.'
Co-author Dr Anne Blood, from Harvard, said: 'These are core, fundamental structures of the brain. They form the basis for how you assess positive and negative features about things in the environment and make decisions about them.' The drug users in the study smoked cannabis at least once a week but were not psychologically dependent on their habit. …