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Weed won't cause brain damage the way alcohol will, study finds

Josh Magness, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

It's a common stereotype that people who smoke weed are a bit foggy-headed and missing a few brain cells.

But a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that alcohol is much more damaging to your brain than marijuana. In fact, the study -- which was published in the journal Addiction -- suggests that weed use doesn't seem to alter the structure of a person's brain at all.

Kent Hutchison, a co-author of the study, told Medical News Today that he wanted to examine what effect pot has on a person's brain because there isn't a conclusive answer to the question.

"When you look at these studies going back years, you see that one study will report that marijuana use is related to a reduction in the volume of the hippocampus," he said. "The next study then comes around, and they say that marijuana use is related to changes in the cerebellum.

"The point is that there's no consistency across all of these studies in terms of the actual brain structures."

For the study, researchers wanted to see the relationship between alcohol and marijuana use and the volume of gray and white matter in a person's brain. Both gray and white matter are important for a healthy and functioning brain.

The study involved 853 people aged 18 to 55 and 439 teenagers. They had "a range of alcohol and cannabis use," the researchers wrote.

It was found that among those who drank alcohol, adults -- and to a lesser extent, teens -- had a reduction in gray matter volume. The study found that white matter was affected in adults, but not teenagers, who drank. These effects were especially seen in adults with a history of drinking for years, according to Medical News Today.

But among marijuana users (defined as those who had smoked in the past 30 days), there was no relationship between getting high and the structure of a person's brain.

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That led Hutchinson to make a bold proclamation.

"While marijuana may also have some negative consequences," he told Medical News Today, "it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol."

Of course, some studies have suggested weed can be harmful to a person's psychological well being -- and especially for those with developing brains. According to the American Psychiatric Association, those who consume marijuana as an adolescent have higher school dropout rates, greater unemployment and lower life satisfaction.

Another study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging found that a high intake of marijuana is associated with psychosis, depression and schizophrenia.

A survey conducted by Yahoo News and Marist Poll in April found that a majority of Americans – 52 percent -- say they have tried marijuana at least once. Of that majority, another 44 percent say they still use pot.

(c)2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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