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Heavy marijuana use may damage developing brain in teens, young adults
Date:2/2/2009

The study team performed a type of magnetic resonance imaging scan called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) that measures water movement through brain tissues. "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 brain cells," said Ashtari. Myelin provides a coating around brain cells similar to insulation covering an electrical wire. If myelin does not function properly, signaling within the brain may be slower.

Myelin gives its color to the white matter of the brain, and covers the nerve fibers that connect different brain regions. "Our results suggest that early-onset substance use may alter the development of white matter circuits, especially those connections among the frontal, parietal and temporal regions of the brain," said Ashtari. "Abnormal white matter development could slow information transfer in the brain and affect cognitive functions."

Ashtari added that the findings are preliminary. Among other limitations of the study, such as a small sample size, five of the 14 subjects with heavy cannabis use also had a history of alcohol abuse, which may have contributed an effect. Also, it is possible that the brain abnormalities may have predisposed the subjects to drug dependence, rather than drug usage causing the brain abnormalities.

"Further research should be done to investigate the relation between repeated marijuana use and white matter development," said Ashtari. "However, our work reinforces the idea that the adolescent brain may be especially vulnerable to risky behaviors such as substance abuse, because of crucial neural development that occurs during those years."


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Contact: Rachel Salis-Silverman
Salis@email.chop.edu
267-426-6063
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Source:Eurekalert  

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