Marijuana. Brain damage. Hello, Internet kneejerk reaction. Quick, everyone form up. Can a debate have complexity? That would be new…
Research out of King’s College London is causing quite a stir with both sides of the marijuana debate. It points to the possibility strong variants of ‘skunk’ cannabis (marijuana), used regularly, could damage the corpus callosum. That is the part of the brain (white matter) that carries signals between its left and right hemisphere.
Damage to the area can increase the risk of psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and possible mental illness.
Skunk is a cannabis strain that ups the THC concentration. A typical skunk variant will have concentrations of 14-15% THC while the average marijuana strain contains 2-4%. The strain and the subsets get the name from the strong smell. Think of the spray from a skunk. Fun times, right?
Recreational users like the strains due to the potency and medicinal proponents advocate them thanks to the analgesic properties. The issue with skunk strains is the low concentration of CBD. The uneven ratios of THC/CBD can make the side effects more pronounced.
Marijuana and Brain Damage?
The King’s College London study used 99 volunteers for the research published in the journal Psychological Medicine. Researchers used both MRI and DTI imaging to examine the corpus callosum of 56 patients admitted for an episode of psychosis and 43 local volunteers.
The findings? A daily user of high-potency cannabis had a 2% greater ‘mean diffusivity’ in the white matter of the brain. The higher the mean diffusivity, the more inefficient your white matter functions. Information transfer slows down between the two hemispheres, possibly leading to mental illness or symptoms of psychosis.
Paola Dazzan, the lead author of the study, commented on the results.
“If you look at the corpus callosum, what we’re seeing is a significant difference in the white matter between those who use high potency cannabis and those who never use the drug, or use the low-potency drug.”
What the study could not find was a direct causal relationship between THC and the changes in white matter. Dazza’s response is the research shows that if you are a daily user of skunk strains, your brain will be impacted.
“It is possible that these people already have a different brain, and they are more likely to use cannabis. But what we can say is if it’s high potency, and if you smoke frequently, your brain is different from the brain of someone who smokes normal cannabis, and from someone who doesn’t smoke cannabis at all.”
Nuances and Marijuana
The issue with the debate over legalization always morphs into an all or none question. The research by Dazza and her team does not discount the possible benefits of marijuana. Nor does the paper say marijuana causes brain damage.
It comes down to moderation and regulation. Dazza puts it best when comparing it to alcohol.
“When it comes to alcohol, we are used to thinking about how much people drink, and whether they are drinking wine, beer, or whiskey. We should think of cannabis in a similar way, in terms of THC and the different contents cannabis can have, and potentially the effects on health will be different.”
Nuance. Moderation. Regulation. Proponents of marijuana should be onboard with all three. Yes, the research makes for scary headlines. It also points out the glaring gap in research and the lack of oversight in marijuana strains.
Research with a side of research. My stance is for legalization. Personally, I’d love to see it studied on stuttering.
But legalization in a controlled environment. Will there be issues? Of course. People will still be able to buy stronger strains on the black market. Asking for perfection only shines the light on imperfections.