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Casual marijuana use linked to brain abnormalities

A new study on the use of marijuana asserts that casual marijuana use can come with some risks. Most notably, the risks involve brain abnormalities for the marijuana smoker. Researchers at Northwestern University are making such a claim after having done a study on the relation between a person’s casual marijuana usage and how the person’s brain changes due to the use of the narcotic, according to a Chicago Tribune report and a Fox News report on Tuesday.

A Tacoma resident smokes marijuana shortly after a law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana took effect on December 6, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.
Stephen Brashear/ Getty images

The research says that a young adult who smokes marijuana as infrequently as just once or twice a week experiences significant abnormalities in two of the brain’s important structures. The results of the study clearly state similarities to research results released in the past which have equated chronic, long-term marijuana usage to mental illness. The past studies have also indicated changes in one’s development in the brain.

From this most recent study and previous studies on the effects of marijuana usage at Northwestern University, it is now known that casual and heavy marijuana uses are causing similar brain abnormalities. The study’s co-senior author, Dr. Hans Breiter, asserts his studies indicate that heavy and casual marijuana users have brain abnormalities that are similar to the abnormalities found in patients with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia - a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown in thinking and poor emotional responses in individuals - includes delusions, paranoia, disorganized thinking, a lack of emotion and motivation, as well as hearing voices or noises.

Breiter, who is also a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, claims that the abnormalities in the brain’s functions involve a person’s working memory. He said working memory is what comes into use when a person makes judgments or decisions, plans things, and does mathematics. Basically, anything one does in real time is working memory. It’s one of the core fundamental aspects of our brains that we constantly use. Due to that significance on a person’s state of being, the professor said there was a need to study casual, recreational use.

The subjects used in the most recent casual marijuana use study involved 18-to-25-year-old persons. Twenty of the persons were marijuana users and another 20 were well-matched control subjects. The subjects had a wide range of marijuana usage routines. Some used marijuana every day while others used the drug just once or twice per week. Breiter says that the interaction of marijuana with brain development could be a significant problem in society.