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posted by n1 on Wednesday November 12 2014, @03:52PM   Printer-friendly
from the snuff-ignorance-before-it-spreads dept.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), reports at AlterNet:

A new study identifying minor differences in the brain imaging of habitual marijuana consumers compared to non-users may be ideal for stimulating sensational headlines (e.g., "Regular pot smokers have shrunken brains, study says," Los Angeles Times, November 10), but tells us little in regard to whether pot poses actual health risks.

Specifically, an MRI scan revealed less gray matter in the orbital frontal cortex of pot-smoking subjects compared to those who had never used the drug. Researchers also identified increased connectivity between certain regions of the brain in regular marijuana users compared with non-users.

So precisely what do these findings tell us in regard to pot use and health? Not much. Since the study design is not longitudinal, investigators cannot determine whether these differences are caused by subject's cannabis use, whether these differences existed prior to subjects' ever trying cannabis, or whether these differences persist when users' cannabis consumption ceases.

Most importantly, investigators in this study failed to determine whether any of these differences are positively associated with any measurable adverse performance outcomes, such as cognitive performance or quality of life. It may be that these cannabis users are functioning in their daily lives in a manner that is indistinguishable from controls, in which case the imaging differences may hold little if any real-world significance.

Related Stories

Study Links Daily High-THC Cannabis Use to Higher Rates of Psychosis 62 comments

Daily Marijuana Use And Highly Potent Weed Linked To Psychosis

Weed use is taking off as more states move to legalize it. And with all the buzz over medical marijuana, it's starting to gain an aura of healthfulness. But there are some serious health risks associated with frequent use. One of the more troubling ones is the risk of having a psychotic episode.

Several past studies have found that more frequent use of pot is associated with a higher risk of psychosis, that is, when someone loses touch with reality. Now a new study published Tuesday [open, DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30048-3] [DX] in the The Lancet Psychiatry shows that consuming pot on a daily basis and especially using high potency cannabis increases the odds of having a psychotic episode later.

[...] The study also shows that three European cities — London, Paris and Amsterdam — where high potency weed is most commonly available actually have higher rates of new cases of psychosis than the other cities in the study. [...] The researchers identified 901 people aged 18 to 64 who were diagnosed with their first episode of psychosis between May 2010 and April 2015, at a mental health facility anywhere in 11 cities, including London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, other cities across Europe, and one site in Brazil.

The researchers then asked these individuals and a control group of 1,200-plus other healthy people about their habits, including their use of weed. "We asked people if they used cannabis, when did they start using it and what kind of cannabis," explains study author Marta Di Forti, a psychiatrist and clinician scientist at King's College London. People reported the names of weed strains they used, like skunk in the U.K., or the Dutch Nederwiet, which allowed the researchers to identify the THC content in each product through data gathered by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction and national data from the different countries.

The study found that those who used pot daily were three times more likely to have a psychotic episode compared to someone who never used the drug.

Related: Media Leaps to Questionable Conclusions from Study on the Effects of Marijuana on the Brain
Marijuana - Both Sides of the Story
Study Finds That Legalized Medical Cannabis Led to a Decline in Medicare Prescriptions
New Attorney General Claims Legal Weed Drives Violent Crime; Statistics be Damned
World Health Organization Clashes With DEA on CBD; CBD May be an Effective Treatment for Psychosis

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  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:06PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:06PM (#115228)

    Is to make you.... want to use a lot of ellipses... in your posts... kind of like this...

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by c0lo on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:18PM

    by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:18PM (#115236) Journal
    Regular pot smokers cause brain-shrinkage in sensationalistic journos, reaction to study reveals.
  • (Score: 2) by Lagg on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:31PM

    by Lagg (105) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:31PM (#115248) Homepage Journal

    I don't really care for the stuff now (makes me tired) but as a kid I smoked a fair share of it. For a while I had pretty severe migraine issues that lead to a few MRIs. If this actually caused shrinkage wouldn't my doctor have told me that I was missing gray matter? It doesn't seem like something that the doctor would need to be looking for in particular in the scan. I know, anecdotal evidence and all that but still. It's better than these media idiots always failing to understand correlation and causation.

    -- [] 🗿
    • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:08PM

      by Freeman (732) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:08PM (#115269) Journal

      The doctor could of noted that it was slightly smaller than the average. That wouldn't be any cause for concern on their part, if it was still within a certain range. Seeing a bunch of people with similarly reduced brain size in a study is something to think about.

      Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:12PM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:12PM (#115271)

      "pretty severe migraine issues"

      I had the same issue in my youth, bad enough that I never used it much. I wonder with all the legalization stuff if this will be researched. If my home state legalizes, I'm not burning any, until I can without a headache, so there's an obvious financial motivation for both the growers and the taxers to figure this out.

      I never tried it in edible form in brownies, maybe the key is something in the smoke not the thc itself. Smoke inhalation is rarely good for you.

      I did some googling on the topic of shrinking brains and the only known ways to shrink a brain before this study were stress, aging, and pregnancy. (seriously, not some kind of weird joke, go google it if you don't believe me) So this is probably going to severely screw up any longitudinal studies. "Obviously" the older someone is the more likely they tried pot at some point in their life, but the older they are the more likely they are older aka brain shrink due to aging as previously discovered.

      I find it chemically speaking to be truly bizarre that the only oil known to shrink brains is THC and the only psychoactive known to shrink brains is THC etc etc. That's just weird. All the crazy stuff in the world and only THC shrinks your brain, at least according to google. I guess everything else could be wrong, or maybe this study has weird issues. My bet is on the study being wrong.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Lagg on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:25PM

        by Lagg (105) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:25PM (#115304) Homepage Journal

        Interestingly enough the few times I did feel like lighting while experiencing a migraine (as I'm sure you remember the pain-so-bad-its-nauseaus feeling) it helped it to a certain extent. I think it relieves pressure in the same way it does for people who use it for glaucoma. But yeah if there is something that actually causes damage to the brain I'd be more willing to think it was carcinogens than anything from the THC or cannabis itself. Perhaps they should have a cigarette smoker control group or something. Or even just use people who ingest without smoking. It's kind of silly that any self respecting experiment would do otherwise since it introduces a ton of new variables.

        -- [] 🗿
  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Translation Error on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:08PM

    by Translation Error (718) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:08PM (#115268)
    This just in! A new study has found that people who regularly exercise tend to have a smaller stomach compared to those who do not. News reports caution people to exercise sparingly to avoid the risk of a shriveled, atrophied stomach.
    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:19PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:19PM (#115275)

      Mod parent up.

      Bigger isn't better. Didn't the neanderthals have bigger brains? Well, that's kind of a poor point on my part because we know very little about the neanderthals.

      A psychologist explained to me once that the mind is a word machine, and our thoughts and feelings are like a radio tuned to a station we cannot control droning on in the background. For those of us that have higher IQs, sometimes the thoughts and feelings that radio station plays can be overwhelming, deafening, if only it would actually make us deaf to the violent thunderstorm at sea we have to endure in a dinghy on a daily basis.

      No, I'm not talking about schizophrenia or auditory hallucinations. If I were, I might have access on a medical basis. No, I'm afraid this is all fairly normal and does not fit the criteria of diagnosis for any medical condition.

      Please, why may I not consume a substance that might lower my IQ a bit, disperse the raging thunderclouds, and tune that radio to a more pleasant station?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:34PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:34PM (#115283)

        Bigger isn't better. Didn't the neanderthals have bigger brains?

        Yes. And when the modern humans came, the Neanderthals immediately recognized that they don't want to live in a world full of people that stupid, and therefore decided to die out.

        • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:36PM

          by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:36PM (#115347)

          Not immediately - they tried to breed the stupid out of us first, though it obviously didn't take. I suspect it was the inane pillow talk that finally led them to embrace extinction.

          • (Score: 1) by Wierd0n3 on Thursday November 13 2014, @12:47AM

            by Wierd0n3 (1033) on Thursday November 13 2014, @12:47AM (#115375)

            I think this could be a skit on robot chicken.

      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:27PM

        by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:27PM (#115343)

        I often have a similar problem. May I suggest taking up meditation? Whether you're interested in enlightenment or not, one of the early practical lessons is learning how to "turn off the radio" so that your mind goes silent and still on command. It's up to you whether you use that stillness to listen for deeper truths or just to get a little peace and quiet. Me, I find it extremely relaxing when waiting in line or stuck in traffic.

        As for the psychologist - that sounds like the sort of bullshit that makes me avoid psychologists. The brain works perfectly fine without words, the vast majority of what it does preexists words by millions of years. It is only the "rational" mind that is largely a storytelling machine, and only hubris that equates the mind with the self, much less the entirety of the brain. The mind is a powerful tool, but it's only a tool, and if you don't know how to set it aside when it's not helpful it tends to cause all sorts of problems (corollary to "don't wash dishes while holding a chainsaw")

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13 2014, @07:48AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13 2014, @07:48AM (#115465)

        A psychologist explained to me...

        Judging by the crap he spewed, I'm betting that you meant to say "psychiatrist", not "psychologist". Yes, there is a difference.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Immerman on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:09PM

    by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:09PM (#115270)

    From the abstract:

    The results showed that compared with controls, marijuana users had significantly less bilateral orbitofrontal gyri volume, higher functional connectivity in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) network, and higher structural connectivity in tracts that innervate the OFC (forceps minor) as measured by fractional anisotropy (FA). Increased OFC functional connectivity in marijuana users was associated with earlier age of onset. Lastly, a quadratic trend was observed suggesting that the FA of the forceps minor tract initially increased following regular marijuana use but decreased with protracted regular use.

    So, less brain volume in the ridges (gyri) of an area associated with the cognitive process of decision making, but greater connectivity within the entire region, as well as in the nerves that interconnect the two regions between hemispheres. I'm no neuroscientist, but that doesn't exactly scream "obvious consequences" to me. Might relate to my own experiences getting high in college though - it compromised my ability to consciously think my way through problems, but enhanced my intuitive problem solving. I'd do most of my programming sober, but smoke a bowl or three during the early design phase to come up with stuff that was simultaneously simpler, more powerful, and more flexible than anything I'd come up with sober.

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:17PM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:17PM (#115273)

      Another interesting aspect is it would imply the tissues are dramatically different, which is probably useful "somehow" to someone.

      For example boring tobacco smoke doesn't have a little GPS unit on each molecule so it anthropomorphically knows to hit 3 inches from the top and 2 inchs to the left on every human lung, instead it just kinda messed up everything in its path more or less.

      THC must be one hell of a smart molecule to strike so precisely. Or, perhaps the study is bogus. Or as I propose the tissue must be dramatically different, somehow, such that its differentially strongly affected.

      • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:40PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:40PM (#115287)

        Or maybe it's simply that a smaller orbital frontal cortex but better connected brain is correlated with the type of personality likely to smoke weed.

        • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:54PM

          by VLM (445) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:54PM (#115294)

          Or the type of personality more likely to participate in a study. Mine isn't that type. Who has time for that kind of BS or rephrased how do they recruit?

      • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:42PM

        by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:42PM (#115289) Journal

        Probably turns out that THC isn't targeting those areas of the brain directly, but is indirectly stimulating them because those are the bits responsible for ordering pizza and giggling uncontrollably.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Immerman on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:35PM

        by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:35PM (#115311)

        I suspect not, I'm pretty sure the whole brain operates pretty similarly on a cellular level, with the possible exception of the really ancient parts around the brainstem - they might not have kept up with recent advances in neuro-biology. ("We keep the critical circuits running on time-proven technology, maybe we'll consider upgrading in a few hundred million years once the new neuron designs have been thoroughly tested").

        Meanwhile we know that neuroplasticiy can be quite dramatic, allowing the brain to adapts to changing usage and even (with luck) severe localized damage. It seems far more likely that marijuana usage alters user's neurological behavior in a way that overstimulates certain tissues while understimulating others. To use your lung example, the whole lung functions pretty much the same way at the same time, so anything that mucks with it mucks with the whole thing. Muscles on the other hand function independently and locally - regularly using a drug that inclines users to swing through trees all day would result in your arm and shoulder muscles bulking up while those in your legs atrophy, despite having no direct effect on your muscles at all.

  • (Score: 1) by Rackdude on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:33PM

    by Rackdude (4869) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @05:33PM (#115281)

    Although it sounds obvious that this is true, a statement like this requires evidence. They now have evidence of a real measurable brain property, and this result will be what the researchers use to get the grants to do the longitudinal studies, etc. that would be more interesting. That's how grant funding works when there is a low budget and you have to guarantee that you'll get some result.

    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:32PM

      by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:32PM (#115346)

      If it sounds obvious that it's true then you must not have been paying attention in science class. Lesson one: correlation does not imply causation.

      Unless you're referring to the statement "Media leaps to questionable conclusions from X", I think that one has enough evidence behind it to be accepted as obviously true, regardless of the value of X.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:19PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:19PM (#115301)

    Wait, what was the article about? I forgot.

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by FanOfAllThingsGood on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:34PM

    by FanOfAllThingsGood (4726) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:34PM (#115309)

    People like to get away from it all and not have to confront the reality of their life, and to those so inclined, any drugs are high on the list. A simple view of, for example, taking pain killers to stop pain and ignoring why the pain in there in first place is ignoring the signals the body is sending as if the reason for the pain is solved by taking the pain killers.

    Maybe due to how short our live spans currently are, maybe due to the fact that most simply don't want to look at too many scary things, such as the fact that there is a clear degradation of human bodies over the last many decades. It is now normal to consider dementia the normal course for growing old, kidney failure, eyesight problems, heart problems, these are all growing fast.

    Some companies, such as Monsanto, are spearheading a direction that was inconceivable not long ago. I find the idea that anything you take which numbs you is clearly not to your benefit, nor would it be neutral. Scanning brains does not either constitute a proper test with all the misunderstandings about it and so on.

    Look at the body as whole and see what effect something has on it as a whole. Though that does often require a realization that the body is one machine, not a number of loosely connected pieces. The body is constantly sending signals about various conditions, ignore them at your own perils. Unfortunately the drug manufacture funded education of doctors does not win if we are healthy, they require sick bodies to make money.

    You can however subscribe to actual research papers directly and educate yourself. You can make simple tests such as not eating any grains for 30 days and see how that works out. Don't consume anything with sugar and you'll discover the demand for it sizzles away. You end up giving your immune system a break and it will work much better.

    As a note on the last paragraph, I lost about 30 lbs over a month and regained my previous normal weight. Have a ton more energy etc. Food is being degraded by companies that make more money that way. The fact that we let that occur and continue, shows how ignorant we as a people are, and how little we actually look at this kind of stuff. Likewise in the end I find no drug that is enhancing our bodies over time, only temporary mental relief.

    What you don't know can and often does hurt you, educate yourself properly. There are too many vested interests that are misinformed, don't care about others, and gloat over money they make at our expense.

    • (Score: 1) by pnkwarhall on Wednesday November 12 2014, @10:46PM

      by pnkwarhall (4558) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @10:46PM (#115356)

      Mod parent +1 Interesting

      Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13 2014, @03:20AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13 2014, @03:20AM (#115394)

      "how short our live spans currently are"
      Where do you live? The average life expectancy has been increasing for a while (

      "they require sick bodies to make money"
      There is no need for a conspiracy because there will always be plenty of sick bodies.

      "You end up giving your immune system a break and it will work much better."
      Any references from "actual research papers"? Your immune system doesn't need a break. In fact, the Hygiene Hypothesis ( explains that increases in autoimmunity may be due to lack of immune system activity.

  • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Thursday November 13 2014, @02:28PM

    by mcgrew (701) <> on Thursday November 13 2014, @02:28PM (#115554) Homepage Journal

    CBS's morning news had their doctor explain that even though the results are a little worrying, they're almost meaningless. He even pointed out that correlation is not causation. Does pot cause smaller frontal cortexes, or does a smaller cortex lead one to smoke pot? Does something else cause both? Is it coincidence? This study answers none of these questions.

    He also pointed out other problems with the study.