Teenage Marijuana Abuse Linked to Brain Damage

Teenage Marijuana Abuse Linked to Brain Damage

Heavy Marijuana Use Can Alter Teenagers’ Brains

Researchers from Northwestern University recently conducted a groundbreaking study on teenage marijuana abuse and its impact on certain parts of the brain. The study, published in the medical journal Hippocampus, shows some alarming results.

Scientists from Northwestern based their assumptions about marijuana related brain damage on previous Australian studies. For their study, they used brand new brain mapping software to study pot users’ brains. This software, the first of its kind, examined multiple MRI scans of multiple participants’ brains.

hippocampus pot damage

The results, presented in detail below, are startling. Although it’s long been suspected that long-term marijuana use can alter brain chemistry, and in some cases alter areas of the brain itself, this study is the closest one yet to offering definitive proof.

Matthew Smith, lead author of the study and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the Feinberg School of Medicine, had the following to say,

“Both our recent studies link the chronic use of marijuana during adolescence to these differences in the shape of brain regions that are critical to memory and that appear to last for at least a few years after people stop using it” (Medical News Today).

So just what did this new study uncover? Let’s find out.

Pot Probably Shrinks the Brain

Northwestern University researchers gathered a large group of participants for their study. They found individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and those diagnosed with marijuana use disorder (the clinical term for being a weed addict). They also found those diagnosed with both schizophrenia and marijuana use disorder, as well as a control group of “normal” participants.

The participants, according to self-reporting, smoked pot but didn’t use other drugs. They smoked everyday for approximately three years during their adolescence (ages sixteen to seventeen). At the time of the study, they’d been marijuana free for an average of two years.

What about the actual findings, though? Well, through brain mapping, researchers found that:

  • There is a strong correlation between smoking marijuana and having an abnormally shaped hippocampus


  • It appears the longer adolescents and teenagers abuse marijuana, the more misshapen their hippocampus


  • This is thought to be from damage to the hippocampus’ axons and neurons

Through performing cognitive and memory tests, researchers found that:

  • Participants with a history of marijuana abuse performed 18% worse on memory tests than those with no history of substance abuse


  • Participants with a history of marijuana abuse and schizophrenia performed 26% worse than those with no history of mental illness or substance abuse

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What Does This Mean?

That’s a good question – just what does this new information mean? Well, first things first, it’s not definitive.

Those involved in the study cautioned that a separate study is needed to offer conclusive proof that abnormalities in the hippocampus are caused by marijuana and marijuana alone. This was a single study, not a long-term examination of participants’ lives.

marijuana abuse brain damage

Still, these findings do offer some suggestions for future treatment of adolescent marijuana abuse. They highlight the dangers marijuana presents. The drug, often thought to be harmless, can actually have long reaching implications. These findings make it clear that, regardless of what those suffering from marijuana use disorder think, treatment is absolutely necessary.

So, how do we offer that treatment? How do we help those who may not even be aware they need help? While those sound like tough questions, the answers are actually relatively simple. We continue to share articles and information about the dangers of habitual marijuana abuse. We start and continue a dialogue about how pot isn’t harmless!

Through this type of action, we may start to see real change.

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