Pubdate: Thu, 03 Sep 2009
Source: Auburn Plainsman, The (Auburn U, AL Edu)
Copyright: 2009 The Auburn Plainsman
Author: Max Newfield, Staff Writer


The results of a University of California San Diego study claim
adolescents who use marijuana may be less susceptible to brain damage
from binge drinking.

"I was definitely surprised by the results," said Susan Tapert, a
professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, and
one of the main researchers in the study.

The study's goal was to research the capacity of the adolescent brain
to process information efficiently after exposure to drugs and alcohol.

Between 2007 and 2009, researchers studied adolescents ages 16 to 19.

The subjects were divided into three groups: binge drinkers, binge
drinkers who also used marijuana and a control group who rarely or
never used alcohol or drugs.

Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting
for men and four or more drinks in one sitting for women.

The researchers were surprised to find the results of the study
deviated from what they had hypothesized, Tapert said.

"We found that the damage to their white matter was right in the
middle (of the results)," Tapert said, about the subjects who
frequently used marijuana and alcohol. "Obviously, we expected them to
have the highest level of damage (of all the test participants)."

There are many possibilities the adolescents who only used alcohol
showed more brain damage than those who used alcohol and marijuana,
Tapert said.

"This was only one study done at one time," Tapert said. "Maybe the
kids who used marijuana were healthier than those who only used
alcohol, or maybe one group was more candid than the other."

Tapert also said she would not rule out that marijuana could possibly
have protective properties, but she said more evidence is needed.

"It is possible that marijuana might have some neuroprotective
matters," Tapert said. "We will continue with our research before we
pass any judgment."

However, while Tapert said she was surprised by the study's results,
others were not.

Bruce Mirken, the director of communications for the Marijuana Policy
Project, said he was not shocked by the results.

The MPP is an organization working toward loosening marijuana-related

"(The MPP envision) a nation where marijuana is legally regulated
similarly to alcohol, marijuana education is honest and realistic, and
treatment for problem marijuana users is non-coercive and geared
toward reducing harm," says the mission statement on their Web site,

"I'm interested, but not hugely surprised," Mirken said. "There is a
fair amount of data from lab and animal testing that says that
cannabinoids (the active chemicals in marijuana which also occur
naturally in humans and animals) may be capable of protecting the
brain from damage."

Other people see this study as a necessary step in educating the
general public about marijuana.

"Based on my observations, one of the main obstacles in marijuana
policy debate is that many people don't fully understand marijuana,"
said Steve Fox, director of state campaigns for the MPP. "I feel that
by comparing marijuana to alcohol it gives the American public a point
of understanding."

Fox said he did not want to get prematurely excited about the
seemingly positive results of the study.

"I'm not sure this one study will make a difference, as much as I'd
like it to," Fox said. "The government tends to downplay and ignore
these types of studies, and that is disappointing."

Whether the government's reception of this study is positive or not,
this is another addition to the marijuana policy reform debate, Mirken

"The sad and frustrating thing is that by-and-large marijuana policy
has never been driven by data," Mirken said. "If mere fact were enough
to change the laws, they would have been changed a very long time ago."

As for the scientific side of the marijuana-legalization debate,
Tapert said she and her colleagues will continue researching and
performing their study.

"We will continue to gather data from our test subjects," Tapert said.
"We want to study a wider variety of brain functions and see how they
perform under a series of cognitive tests."

Although these findings are intriguing, they still show that
substance-use negatively affects the brain.

"The main result is that adolescents who don't use substances have the
healthiest brain matter," Tapert said. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr