This study is sure to stir the proverbial pot surrounding chronic pot smoking. A new study is out pointing to chronic pot smoking shrinking the orbitofrontal cortex, a region most commonly associated with addiction. The region in the frontal lobes of the brain controls your decision-making, and expressing punishment or rewards for certain actions.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used MRI scans on chronic, long-term marijuana users. The study was conducted by a team led by Francesca Filbey from the Center for Brain Health, at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Researchers definitely took chronic smokers to an extreme in the study. Using 48 pot smokers and 62 non-smokers, the researchers used brain scans to monitor impact. The smokers used pot three times a day during the study, and had been smoking a decade. That’s more than stringent on the smoking side.

Measuring changes in the region, researchers noticed the number of receptors dropped as more THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, was introduced. Filbey remarked on the observation via a release. “The more THC is introduced in the system, the brain responds by reducing the number of receptors.”

Pot advocates are pushing back on the study, saying the study showed no definitive cognitive decline.

“Investigators in this study failed to assess whether any of these differences are positively associated with any measurable adverse performance outcomes, such as cognitive [mental] performance or quality of life,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the nonprofit National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

That’s true. The study went to incredible lengths, finding chronic users that essentially spend their day high. What they did find is a sobering conclusion.

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Kids under the age of 18 should not have access to marijuana. The earliest onset they found in the study was 14, and the difference between 14 and someone in their early 20s was pronounced.

“Our youngest onset of use was 14 years of age, and the difference between 14 and people who started using in their later 20s was really striking in terms of degree,” Filbey said. “These changes seem to be far more significant the earlier you start using marijuana, and early adolescent use leads to greater changes.”

Other commentators worry that the differing strains being developed with more THC will make the cumulative effect worse over the long-term.

Legalization is coming, whether certain segments of the population like it or not. Personally, I’d prefer the NIH and other research arms on the frontlines, and regulatory body formed to reign in the various strains and spiking THC levels.

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