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Some Facts To Know Before November

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Posted: Thursday, April 17, 2014 12:00 am

A study published Wednesday in a prestigious medical journal raises disturbing questions about the negative effects on the brain of young adults that even casual marijuana usage can produce.

In the words of one of the study’s authors, its findings “are the same as a canary in a coal mine,” warning of dangers ahead.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, was conducted by a team of researchers at Northwestern University. Using two groups of 20 subjects each, aged 18 to 25—one group who are not pot smokers and one whose members’ use of marijuana varies from daily to once or twice a week—they found that those who used cannabis in even the lower dosages showed significant abnormalities in two important brain structures.

The brain segments impacted, the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala, are responsible for functions that include processing emotions, making decisions and motivation.

Abnormalities were noted in the pot-smoking subjects’ working memory, said co-author Dr. Hans Breiter, who described working memory as fundamental to everything people do, whether it’s making judgments, planning activities or even doing math.

Because previous work in his laboratory showed heavy pot use caused brain abnormalities similar to those seen in patients with schizophrenia, Dr. Breiter said his team decided it needed to look at casual, recreational use.

The finding that even casual marijuana use can make changes in brain areas key to motivation tends to underscore the belief among many scientists that pot use causes people’s motivation to decline, making them less oriented toward achieving their life goals and purposes, and to seem generally less focused.

Dr. Breiter is calling for more research to study marijuana’s effects on the brain, even in those who use it infrequently. He told a news network this week he is concerned that cannabis hasn’t been fully studied while the movement to legalize its use is gathering momentum.

So far, only two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. But Dr. Breiter’s warning should resonate with Californians, since, according to the website of Secretary of State Debra Bowen, two initiatives to legalize its use in this state have been approved for circulation for a spot on the November ballot.

Both would require signatures of 504,760 registered voters to qualify for the ballot, and both have circulation deadlines in August.

That voters might get a chance to make marijuana easy and legal to obtain will doubtless cheer many young California adults who are prone to believe that if it’s legal it’s safe. We urge them to read the results of Dr. Breiter’s study and think long and hard about whether the brief euphoria brought on by marijuana use is worth the possibility of brain damage that could be irreversible.

We say “could,” because it’s not yet clear whether the cessation of pot use could allow the brain to recover from the damage the drug can cause. For those who are skeptical about claims that the development of the brains of teens and young adults can be altered by using marijuana, we refer them to the 150 scientific studies on the subject, available online at

It’s possible that in about seven months California voters could be asked to make a decision that could negatively affect the cognitive powers of their children and of future generations. The issues are too important to be decided based on hazy thinking and an incomplete understanding of the implications of which box they check in the voting booth.

We urge our readers to learn the facts, and to be willing to delay making what could be a fateful decision until the full physical and psychological ramifications of marijuana use have been established by solid research.

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.

1 comment:

  • andrewsac posted at 12:49 pm on Tue, Apr 22, 2014.

    andrewsac Posts: 1

    While I think the open discussion on weed should continue, all of the facts should be considered, including the overwhelmingly negative response to this study from the rest of the scientific community. Scare tactics are beneath any reputable publication, and scaring readers with half the discussion is not professional.