Study: Marijuana Use Causes Chaos in the Brain
Previous scientific studies have associated the consumption of cannabis with impairment of concentration and memory. Now a new study from the University of Bristol has delved deeper into the mind of the marijuana smoker. They found that brain activity becomes highly uncoordinated, erratic, and inaccurate while the user is under the influence. The researchers believe this brain-chaos can lead to neuropsychological and behavioral impairments similar to those observed in schizophrenia.
This study has great significance, considering cannabis is the most popular recreational drug in the entire world behind alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. In the United States alone, an estimated 100 million individuals have tried it, and about 25 million have used it in the past year. Although an illegal substance, certain states have begun loosening their marijuana laws, and some have made it legal to use medicinally.
According to Dr. Matt Jones, lead author of the study, "Marijuana abuse is common among sufferers of schizophrenia and recent studies have shown that the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana can induce some symptoms of schizophrenia in healthy volunteers. These findings are therefore important for our understanding of psychiatric diseases, which may arise as a consequence of 'disorchestrated brains' and could be treated by re-tuning brain activity."
The Bristol researchers compare brain performance with that of a philharmonic orchestra. The many pieces, strings, brass, woodwinds, etc. are all combined according to the rhythms of the conductor. The rhythms combine in an orchestra to create a beautiful sound, and in the brain to create brain waves.
The scientists examined the brain waves in rats who were administered a drug that mimics the active ingredient in marijuana, THC. They found that the drug completely disrupted coordinated brain waves across the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, areas responsible for memory and decision-making. If this were an orchestra, it would be like the trumpets and violins began playing Debussy's Claire de Lune in the middle of Beethoven's 9th.
The affected rats become unable to make accurate decisions and could not find their way out of their maze. The same effect can be found in humans who are under the influence. Smoking makes people’s brains act like they are schizophrenic. Further studies along these lines may help us understand the processes of the chaotic brain and may eventually lead to treatments in schizophrenia and other mental disorders like Alzheimer's disease.
This study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Link to published article: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/43/15560.abstract
Image credit: Mac Yapper