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Marijuana May Shrink Parts of the Brain
Date:6/2/2008

Drug can affect memory and result in early psychotic symptoms, researchers say

MONDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- People who use marijuana for a long time can develop abnormalities in their brains, Australian researchers report.

Although growing literature suggests that long-term marijuana use is associated with a wide range of adverse health consequences, many people believe it is relatively harmless and should be legalized, the researchers noted.

"However, this study shows long-term, heavy cannabis use causes significant brain injury, memory loss, difficulties learning new information, and psychotic symptoms, such as delusions of persecution [paranoia], delusions of mind-reading, and bizarre social behaviors in even non-vulnerable users," said lead researcher Murat Yucel, from the ORYGEN Research Centre and the Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Melbourne.

This new evidence plays an important role in further understanding the effects of marijuana and its impact on brain functioning, Yucel said. "The study is the first to show that long-term cannabis use can adversely affect all users, not just those in the high-risk categories such as the young, or those susceptible to mental illness, as previously thought," he said.

The report was published in the June issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

In the study, Yucel's team did high-resolution MRIs on 15 men who smoked more than five joints a day for more than 10 years. They compared those with scans of 16 men who did not use marijuana.

In addition, all the men took verbal memory tests and were examined for symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

"The more marijuana used, the more these individuals were likely to show reduced brain volumes in the hippocampus and amygdala, as well as being more likely to develop symptoms of psychotic disorders and to have significant memory impairment," Yucel said.

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