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Marijuana and Schizophrenia: Similar Brain Problems

Marijuana and Schizophrenia: Similar Brain Problems

As it happens, many people have suspected there are psychosis related issues concerning long-term marijuana use and short-term use in those predisposed to cognitive disturbance issues.  Researchers have finally put their official stamp on the matter, stating that heavy use of this substance can lead to abnormal changes in brain structures that correlate to those found in individuals suffering from schizophrenia.

The Marijuana and Schizophrenia Study

With the staggering number of people using marijuana, especially with the number of states in the United States that are legalizing it for personal consumption, emphasis is being placed on the possible effects it can have on its users.  The Feinburg School of Medicine at Northwestern University has performed a study conducted by leader Matthew Smith that analyzed the physical brain changes in an experimental group of twenty year olds who were regularly consuming marijuana.

The data says that all participants had begun their use of this substance by the ages of 16 and 17 and been using it daily for the subsequent three years.  They also had to have abstained from using for the prior two years.  In addition, they had to have had no experiences with other forms of street drugs.

Of the total 97 participants, they were grouped as follows:

  • The experimental group described above
  • A control group of healthy individuals, neither diagnosed with schizophrenia or users of marijuana
  • Patients with a diagnosed marijuana use disorder
  • Participants with schizophrenia and no prior history or use of illicit substances
  • Schizophrenia patients with a dual-diagnosis of a marijuana use disorder

The Results

Those who had begun using marijuana at the early age of 16 to 17 years old and continued with daily abuse showed a deterioration in the brain structure known as the thalamus.  The thalamus plays a role in communication, memory, and the ability to learn new material.  This deterioration affects the “working memory,” which is a term to describe the short-term memory and it’s ability to hold information long enough for it to be allocated into long-term memory.

It is important to point out that although marijuana use had ceased for two years, these brain changes were still present and continued to cause the patients to perform under-par on memory tasks during the experiment.

Marijuana Use Compared to Schizophrenia

Co-Senior study author and member of the Northwestern University Feinburg School of Medicine and member of the Northwestern Memorial Hospital, John Csernansky was quoted as saying:

“The abuse of popular street drugs, such as marijuana, may have dangerous implications for young people who are developing or have developed mental disorders. This paper is among the first to reveal that the use of marijuana may contribute to the changes in brain structure that have been associated with having schizophrenia.”

While other studies have pointed out some specific positive health benefits of using marijuana, such as treating auto-immune disorders, long-term use, especially in young people, can seemingly irreparably cause issues that mimic the physical and mental symptoms associated with schizophrenia.

One Comment

  1. I have always thought there was a link, speaking as a former psychotic patient who also dabbled in marijuana aged 16. I have at times thoughts my drug use was the catalyst for my subsequent mental illness, since whenever I took drugs my already eccentric behaviour became even more so. I’d love to give the whole article a read, do you have the sources for it?

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