Research Connects Casual Marijuana Use to Brain Changes

According to a one study, young adults who sometimes smoke marijuana might be rewiring their brains, with pot use producing brain region structural changes associated with reward, emotion, and motivation.

The authors of the study reported that recreational use of pot by a small circle of young adults produced substantial changes to the density and shape of both the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain included in addiction and reward, and the amygdala that assists in processing emotion and forming long-range memories.

The researchers said the changes display that pot users’ brains will adapt to even low-level exposure to marijuana, possibly making an individual more susceptible to drug addiction or altering their emotions and thought processes within unknown ways.

The new research study included 40 individuals aged 18 – 25, all recruited from colleges in the Boston area. Fifty percent stated using marijuana at the minimum of one time per week, and the other 50% didn’t consume the drug.

Researchers utilized MRI scans in order to study the attendees’ brains, concentrating on the nucleus accumbens and amygdala. They assessed 3 measures — density, shape, and volume of gray matter — to obtain a comprehensive view of how every area was affected.

Investigators discovered that the density of gray matter within the nucleus accumbens and amygdala significantly was increased within pot smokers as compared to non-users, indicating abnormal neuron growth in these places in the brain.

Consequently, both of the brain areas had become shaped abnormally. The nucleus accumbens additionally was larger within pot smokers.

Also, it looks as if the changes are more pronounced within those who claim to use marijuana more frequently within an average week.

There was a consistent, direct connection between how much marijuana they took and abnormalities seen.

Observers believe abnormal neuronal growth is proof that the brain is now forming new pathways which might encourage future use of marijuana. They do know there clinically are observable behavioral differences within those who heavily smoke marijuana — for instance, they have a difficult time motivating themselves to achieve goals. Perhaps a few of these brain changes may associate with some of the behavioral changes which have been clinically observed.

Observers added that the marijuana being smoked by young adults today is a lot more powerful than the pot available to those within the 1960s. Today’s pot contains a lot higher THC concentrations, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.