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article imageTeen pot smokers have healthier brains than those who drink

By Greta McClain     Dec 23, 2012 in Health
San Diego - A recent UC San Diego study shows that marijuana has little or no effect on the brain of teenagers, whereas the consumption of alcohol is more likely to reduce the health of brain tissue in teens.
The study, which is set to be published in the April 2013 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, used data from brain scans of 92 individuals ages 16 to 20. Brain scans were conducted at the beginning of the study, and again at the end of the 18-month long study. The scans showed that teens who consumed five or more drinks twice a week showed a reduction in the amount of white brain matter tissue. Brain scans of teens who smoked pot at a rate of as high as nine times per week showed no change in their brain tissue.
White brain matter is the tissue that carries information between the brain's nerve cells to the spinal cord. Damaged or poorly developed white brain matter can lead to acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis (ADEM), and cerebral palsy. It can also lead to a decreased capacity for learning in adulthood according to a ScienceNet report.
The effects of alcohol on the brain has been studied many times over the past few decades. However, Dr. Duncan Clark, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, told Medical Daily previous studies only administered brain scans once. What makes the UC San Diego study so compelling is that brain scans were administered both before and after alcohol and marijuana use, offering a more accurate look into the how both substances can affect the brain.
Researchers believe that the decrease in white brain tissue is due ethanol, a known neurotoxin. Cannabidiol, the main chemical in marijuana, has been proven to protect the brain, even helping to reduce neurological damage in stroke and head trauma patients. It has also been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and HIV dementia.
In another study, Susan Tapert, a UC San Diego neuroscientist and author of this latest study, found that alcohol consumption led to poorer performance in tests measuring thinking and memory. It was also shown to decrease the attention span in boys and made it more difficult for girls to comprehend and interpret visual information.
A Duke University study conducted earlier this year, found that some teens who smoked pot on a regular basis showed a decrease in their overall IQ. That study leads researchers to agree that further studies are needed. Tapert told the Huffington Post:
"It is clear that more research is needed into the long-term effects of marijuana on the brain. Especially because use is up."
The UC San Diego study does point to a clear distinction between alcohol and marijuana however, leading some to believe that the benefits of marijuana far exceed the risks.
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