Suicide, Paranoia and Brain Changes All Linked To Pot
By Dr. James Palermo // September 13, 2014
GROWING BODY OF KNOWLEDGE CONNECTING MENTAL HEALTH AND NEUROLOGIC CHANGES TO MARIJUANA USE
A study led by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia and recently published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal found a very concerning connection between frequent use of marijuana and high risk of suicide, as well as poor educational performance.
With an expanding movement to decriminalize and legalize the drug for medicinal use in the United States and Australia, citizens and lawmakers should take pause in the face of this very strong evidence that marijuana plays a causative role in mental health problems and subsequent drug abuse in heavy users.
TEENS WHO SMOKE POT DAILY 7 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO COMMIT SUICIDE
The research analyzed the results of three large, long-running studies from Australia and New Zealand involving nearly 3,800 people, which examined the connections between the frequency of cannabis use before age 17, ranging from never to daily, and seven developmental outcomes assessed up to age 30, including frequency of suicide attempts, high school completion and attainment of university degree by age 25.
The analysis showed that teenagers who start smoking pot daily before the age of 17 are seven times more likely to commit suicide, 60 percent less likely to finish high school, and have an eight times greater risk of using other illegal drugs in their twenties.
“What we found is that although the effects were greatest for the daily users, there were also notable effects at the lower frequencies of cannabis use as well,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Edmund Silins told the International Business Times.
“Because our study has shown the potential harms of adolescent use, particularly heavy use, policy makers must be aware of this and reform efforts [to legalize marijuana use] should be carefully considered to protect against this.
“We can’t say what would happen if people were able to access the drug for medical use but I would say those products would have to be heavily tested and regulated to ensure it didn’t make it easier for teenagers to access the drug,” Silins said.
MARIJUANA USE CAUSES CHANGES IN BRAIN ANATOMY
This Australian research comes on the heels of other disconcerting evidence linking marijuana use to neurologic changes and mental health problems.
In a Space Coast Daily article in June we reported on a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, in which researchers from Harvard and Northwestern used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the brains of 18- to 25-year olds, half of whom smoked pot recreationally and half who didn’t.
What they found was rather shocking: Even those who only smoked a few times a week had significant brain abnormalities in the areas that control emotion and motivation.
FINDINGS CHALLENGE NOTION THAT CASUAL POT NOT HARMFUL
“There is this general perspective out there that using marijuana recreationally is not a problem — that it is a safe drug,” Anne Blood, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the study, told Time.com. “We are seeing that this is not the case.”
“This study suggests that even light to moderate recreational marijuana use can cause changes in brain anatomy,” said Carl Lupica, PhD, who studies drug addiction at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and was not involved with this study. “These observations are particularly interesting because previous studies have focused primarily on the brains of heavy marijuana smokers, and have largely ignored the brains of casual users.”
The research team found that the more the marijuana users reported consuming, the greater the abnormalities in the nucleus accumbens and amygdala, the areas that control a brain region known to be involved in reward processing. The shape and density of both of these regions also differed between marijuana users and non-users.
Another co-author of the study, Hans Breiter, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, said, “This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences.”
BRITISH STUDY LINKS POT AND PARANOIA
Space Coast Daily’s weekly Healthcare Headlines also recently highlighted a study out of Great Britain on the effects of the main psychoactive component of cannabis that suggests that users are three times more likely to have paranoid feelings compared with nonusers.
The findings from the study, conducted by The Guardian, a British national newspaper, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Oxford, the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, and the University of Manchester and published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, did not conclude that cannabis causes paranoia for everyone.
However, what the researchers clearly saw was an association between cannabis and paranoia, and that paranoia is not just tenuously linked to cannabis use, but, for a significant number of people, is a direct result of the use of the drug.
Higher risk for suicide, anatomic brain changes, and paranoia–all linked to pot smoking–must be taken into serious consideration in the deliberations over changing marijuana use laws. (Hoder, Time.com, 4/15; Freeman and Freeman, The Guardian, 7/16; Iaccino, International Business Times, 9/11)