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Early Marijuana Use Linked To Abnormal Brain Function

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Marijuana is the most commonly abused drug in the world

Dr. Elizabeth Osuch is a scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute. He and Dr. Joseph Rea, chair of Mood Disorders at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University, carried out a study on marijuana’s impact on mood and anxiety disorders.

Many involved in their study were heavy consumers of marijuana. Regardless of results of past research, the drug did make them feel better, at least for the moment they consumed it.

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Dr Osuch and her team recruited participants from four categories:

  • Some with depression but who were not marijuana consumers,
  • Others with depression and frequent consumers,
  • Marijuana users with no depression, and
  • healthy people who were not marijuana consumers.

Eventually, participants were divided into those who started consuming marijuana before 17 and those who either started after 17 or did not consume it at all. Participants were all put through psychiatric, cognitive and ID tests and had their brains scanned.

The study did not find proof that marijuana use improves depression; there was no difference in psychiatric symptoms between depressed marijuana consumers and depressed people who did not take marijuana.

The results evidenced differences in brain functioning among the four groups in regions of the brain that communicate reward-processing and motor control. Marijuana use did not seem to improve brain function deficits of depression. On the contrary, it made them worse in some regions.

Marijuana users who were initiated before 17 had highly abnormal brain function in areas related to visuospatial processing, memory, self-referential activity and reward processing. Simply put, the study found that when you start consuming marijuana at an early age, you are likely to get lower IQ scores.

These findings also suggest there may be a genetic variation that could predispose young people to early marijuana use.

Dr. Osuch however notes that the study had a considerably small number of participants; as such, the genetic results should be considered tentative. According to her, they will need to be verified with a larger study that will include many more participants.

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