Teen Brain Structure Changed With Occasional Marijuana Use, Says Study

So much for “harmless.” Though for years many have called marijuana use during the teen years nothing more than a normal rite of passage, the scientific evidence to the contrary is adding up. Most recently, according to HealthDay, a new study found that even occasional use of marijuana during the teen years can add up to significant changes in brain structure, especially in the areas that affect reward, motivation, addiction, and emotion.

The Study

Forty students between the ages of 18 and 25 were included in the study; half of the participants reported using marijuana at least once a week but were not addicted to the drug, and the other half did not use the substance at all. All underwent MRI scans, and it was found that those who had used the drug regularly exhibited an abnormally shaped amygdala and nucleus accumbens. Those who used the drug more often exhibited more significant brain changes.

Dr. Hans Breiter of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine was a co-author on the study. He said: “These are two brain regions you do not want to mess around with. All parts of the brain are important, but some, like these, are more fundamental. It raises a very serious issue, given that we saw these changes in casual marijuana users.”

Increased Chance of Developing an Addiction

Other studies have shown that early use of any substance is linked with a greater chance of developing a drug or alcohol problem in adulthood. But the fact that early use of marijuana actually changes the structure of the brain makes young users even more vulnerable to a drug dependency, according to the researchers.

This is the first study that demonstrates that casual use of marijuana can have a serious effect one doesn’t have to be a heavy smoker or use the drug for a long period of time for the brain to be altered.

Jodi Gilman of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine was lead author on the study. Said Gilman, “We were interested in looking at these young adults who aren’t addicted. They aren’t reporting any problems from marijuana, and yet we still see these brain changes.”

Stop Now

If your son is smoking marijuana or drinking, you can help him to mitigate harm going forward. Contact us at Muir Wood today to discuss the options we can offer your son and take the first step toward his newfound abstinence today.