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

act, the hippocampus of marijuana users was 12 percent smaller, and the amygdala was 7.1 percent smaller than among nonusers. In addition, men who used marijuana also had symptoms of psychiatric disorders, Yucel's group found.

The hippocampus is associated with the regulation of emotion and memory, while the amygdala controls fear and aggression.

"There is ongoing controversy concerning the long-term effects of cannabis on the brain," Yucel said. "These findings challenge the widespread perception of cannabis as having limited or no harmful effects on brain and behavior. Although modest use may not lead to significant neurotoxic effects, these results suggest that heavy daily use might indeed be toxic to human brain tissue."

One expert agrees that heavy marijuana use can have negative effects on the brain.

"These findings are not surprising," said Dr. Adam Bisaga, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and an addiction psychiatrist at New York State Psychiatric Institute. "Chronic use of large amounts of any substance that is affecting neural transmission will most likely invoke adaptive changes and lead to the reorganization of neural networks, and possibly affect brain structures."

Heavy users of marijuana probably represent only a very small proportion of users, Bisaga said.

"It is not clear if any clinically significant changes can be seen in recreational, infrequent marijuana users, who were not studied here. These findings suggest that public health education, as well as screening, early recognition, and treatment of cannabis dependence, may prevent the progression of the disease and the loss of brain function and related psychiatric complications," Bisaga said.

More information

For more on drug addiction, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse.




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