Marijuana or Hashish Joint. Photo: VOISIN/PHANIE (Getty)
Although marijuana has never been directly linked to cancer, a new study claims smoking cannabis ages the brain by almost three years. Sounds like it’s well worth the risk.
The research, which was among the largest ever carried out on brain images, took 62,454 SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans from more than 30,000 people in every possible age group, including newborn babies to those over the century mark. The end result showed smoking cannabis prematurely ages the brain. But again, at least it’s not killing you.
“Science has shown us that changes in the brain occurring during adolescence are complex. Our findings suggest that the timing of cannabis use can result in very disparate patterns of effects,” explained Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., principal investigator and Bert Moore Chair of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the Center for BrainHealth. “Not only did age of use impact the brain changes, but the amount of cannabis used also influenced the extent of altered brain maturation.”
The study showed that people who began smoking grass at 16 had arrested development in the prefrontal cortex where judgment and reasoning take place. Whereas a young person smoking before 16 showed direct “brain alteration” proportionate to their weekly use, people who didn’t start smoking until after 16 would see changes in their brain later in life.
This is not to say it’s all bad alteration.
Marijuana was just one of many brain-damaging vices or conditions tested, as researchers also concluded that schizophrenics’ brains were found to age by an even greater average of four years, while those with moderate alcoholic drinking habits only aged 0.6 years.
“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,” Dr. George Perry, of the University of Texas, San Antonio, said.
Multiple studies conducted by a variety of research clinics have come up with similar findings, including the journal Alzheimer’s Disease, who says the average marijuana user ages their brain by about 2.8 years over the course of their lifetime.
Considering drinking a soda per day can age you five years, losing three years on a toke here or there is a tradeoff you might entertain, considering all the benefits of cannabis.