According to a recently conducted study, “adolescents and young adults who are heavy users of marijuana are more likely than non-users to have disrupted brain development.”Pediatric researchers who conducted the study found certain abnormalities in areas connecting the regions of the brain that are associated with cognitive abilities and decision-making skills. The findings of the said study are significant considering that the adolescence is a crucial age in the development of the brain.
The study, being in its preliminary stages, is yet to explain the mechanism through which marijuana use can give rise to brain abnormalities. But according to the study’s leader, Manzar Ashtari, Ph.D of the Diffusion Image Analysis and Brain Morphometry Laboratory at the Children’s Hospital, the study does cover the extent of the damage that heavy marijuana use can cause to the adolescent brain.
The findings of the study were published in last month’s issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research. This research was based from the study head’s previous study, which analyzed the normal development of the brain in teenaged subjects using diffusion sensor imaging. The current research uses the same imaging technology but this time, it is to analyze parts of brain development hampered by cannabis use.
DTI is an imaging technology that measures water diffusion throughout the brain. The study analyzed the brains of 14 subjects from a certain drug treatment center. All of the participants had histories of heavy marijuana use during their teenage years, smoking cannabis since at least age 13 until 19 years old at the most.
“The abnormal patterns of water diffusion that we found among the young men with histories of marijuana use suggest damage or an arrest in development of the myelin sheath that surrounds the brain cells,” says Ashtari. Myelin coats brain cells and damage to this part which can in turn cause the transmission of brain signals to be slower.
“Our results suggest that early-onset substance abuse may alter development of white mater circuits, especially those connections among the frontal, parietal and temporal regions of the brain,” says Ashtari.
The study’s leader recommends that further research be conducted to investigate the link between white-mater development and marijuana use.
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