UK Study Finds Marijuana May Alter Brain Structure

A medical study conducted in the United Kingdom has found that the use of high potency marijuana may affect the structure of a user’s brain. Researchers from King’s College in London examined the brains of 99 participants and found structural differences in users’ white brain matter compared to non-users and low-dose users.

For a better frame of reference, marijuana containing 2-4 percent THC is typically considered low potency and marijuana containing 14 percent THC or greater is considered high potency.

This white matter helps connect the left and right side of the brain and assists in carrying signals from one side to the other. Researchers believe that this white matter difference for marijuana users may result in less efficient communication between the hemispheres of the brain.

Speaking with The Guardian, King’s College neurobiologist Paola Dazzan said that the differences appear to be related to the level of THC ingested.

“If you look at the corpus callosum, what we’re seeing is a significant difference in the white matter between those who use high potency cannabis and those who never use the drug, or use the low-potency drug,” Dazzan said.

To find this difference, researchers looked at 56 participants suffering from first episode psychosis, 37 of which used marijuana, and 43 healthy volunteers, of which 22 used marijuana. Researchers found that users of high potency marijuana had a 2 percent “mean diffusivity” in the corpus callosum.

It is important to note that researchers found this difference among both healthy participants and those suffering from psychosis, which suggests a uniform effect regardless of mental health.

Just as there are those marijuana advocates that are quick to declare marijuana cures cancer after reading one study, so too will there be some quick to declare that marijuana can damage the brain and lead to psychosis; however, there are several limitations to this study that should be considered.

The study’s first limitation is its sample size. Scanning the brains of fewer than 100 people from South London does not constitute a pattern, even if there is a correlation between figures. Also, given its genetic diversity, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to pin down the precise effects of marijuana.

Finally, correlation is not causation. Without examining the direct relationship between marijuana and the brain, there will be numerous variables that one cannot control. Ultimately, this study raises important questions, but it fails to answer them beyond a local-level.

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