Smoking Marijuana Ages The Brain By Nearly 3 Years, Study Finds

Smoking Marijuana Ages The Brain By Nearly 3 Years, Study Finds

Mental ailments such as schizophrenia tended to age the brain by four years. Others such as bipolar disorder and ADHD also aged the brain by around 2 years. Alcohol also led to brain aging, the study found

Many states in the U.S. and countries the world are legalizing marijuana use and the debate about the effects of marijuana uses has acquired new dimensions. A number of vocal supporters of the positives of marijuana have come forward. Marijuana no doubt has a number of effects that can be used and is being harnessed for the treatment of various mental and health ailments. However, there are still a number of experts who believe that proceeding with caution is the best way to go. A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease highlights that smoking and using cannabis in other forms ages the brain by an average of nearly three years, reports the New York Post. The findings of a study such as this give more credence to the cautious approach on the topic of cannabis and marijuana usage since this has become all the more widespread now than ever before. It is for this reason that the authors of the study have also mentioned that their study is important since cannabis use substance is now considered "innocuous" by large members of society. It is, however, not all black and white as the study shows. Mental ailments such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders also lead to aging of the brain the study highlighted.


What is brain aging? Does it really mean the brain becomes old and starts to decay? Well not quite. The scientific definition of the term 'brain aging' to put it simply - the reduced blood flow through the organ. A common ailment of the heart such as strokes and dementia have been linked to reduced blood flow. The study is a collaboration between as many as five U.S. universities, one clinic that specializes in brain studies and Google. It is also the biggest known study to have used brain imagining. 


According to the study's findings, the brain ages by as much as 2.8 years with marijuana use. The effects of brain agining are worse for people who suffer from conditions such as bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. "The cannabis abuse finding was especially important, as our culture is starting to see marijuana as an innocuous substance. This study should give us pause about it,” said, Dr. Daniel Amen, lead study author and founder of Amen Clinics. 


In the study, the scientists analyzed 62,454 brains scans from 31,227 people. The Journal of Alzheimer's Diseases also mentions that scans of people "from 9 months old to 105 years of age" were taken  "to investigate factors that accelerate brain aging." Scans were collected at certain states such as when the brain was at rest and when it was busy in the concentration, the study mentions. Scientists looked at blood flow through 128 regions of each brain and analyzed them to determine how old they thought the individual was according to the study.


Once they learned the person’s actual age, they were able to measure the rate of accelerated aging. “This paper represents an important step forward in our understanding of how the brain operates throughout the lifespan. The results indicate that we can predict an individual's age based on patterns of cerebral blood flow. Additionally, the groundwork has been laid to further explore how common psychiatric disorders can influence healthy patterns of cerebral blood flow,” said Sachit Egan, Co-investigator, Google Inc. (Mountain View, CA). 


While these findings are interesting, a point to note and one that may come as a surprise to many is that no link was found between depression and brain aging. Amen added, “Based on one of the largest brain imaging studies ever done, we can now track common disorders and behaviors that prematurely age the brain. Better treatment of these disorders can slow or even halt the process of brain aging.”


"This is one of the first population-based imaging studies, and these large studies are essential to answer how to maintain brain structure and function during aging. The effect of modifiable and non-modifiable factors of brain aging will further guide advice to maintain cognitive function,” commented Dr. George Perry, from the University of Texas, San Antonio. He was not part of the study.  Besides cannabis use, the research also found that alcohol was also responsible for brain aging, although by an average of 0.6 years. A mental ailment such as schizophrenia tended to age the brain by a greater average of 4 years. Bipolar disorder accelerates brain aging by 1.6 years, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) speeding it up by 1.4 years.

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