Pubdate: Mon, 28 Sep 2009
Source: Tufts Daily (MA Edu)
Copyright: 2009 Tufts Daily
Contact:  http://www.tuftsdaily.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/2705
Author: Derek Schlom

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS: NOT SO BAD AFTER ALL?

New Study Explores Possible Benefits Of Marijuana For Binge Drinkers

A controversial new study found that smoking marijuana may improve 
brain functions.

Before you down that fifth shot of Jagermeister, you might want to 
fire up a joint. Research shows that compared with alcohol, marijuana 
causes less brain damage.

In a study completed at the University of California, San Diego, the 
results of which were published in the current issue of the 
scientific journal "Neurotoxicology and Teratology," researchers 
examined the white brain matter of 42 teenage participants. The 
participants were placed into three groups: those classified as binge 
drinkers (defined in this case as males who consume five or more 
drinks in one sitting and females who consume four or more), binge 
drinkers who also smoked marijuana "regularly" and a control group of 
those who neither drank nor smoked.

The binge drinkers displayed lower fractional anisotropy (FA) scores 
 indicating white brain matter damage  in all eight sections of the 
brain than the control groups, whereas the second group (those who 
also smoked marijuana) had lower FA scores than the control in only 
three sections. Additionally, in a finding the researchers termed 
"surprising," the second group had higher FA scores than the first in 
seven of the brain sections.

So, how are the experts reacting to these findings? Mason Tvert, 
co-author of "Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to 
Drink?" and executive director of the marijuana legalization advocacy 
group Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, sees validation in 
the results.

I find it ironic that marijuana can actually protect you from 
alcohol," he said. "It's just one more way in which marijuana is 
safer than alcohol, and I hope this dispels the myth that marijuana 
kills brain cells when it's actually protecting brain cells from 
damage. Marijuana gives a temporary euphoric effect, whereas binge 
drinking causes long-term permanent damage."

Tvert's message is apparently reaching the masses: "Marijuana is 
Safer" climbed as high as No. 14 on Amazon.com's bestseller list 
following the publication of the UC San Diego study.

In a press release, Tvert's "Marijuana is Safer" co-author, Steve Fox 
(LA '90), who is also the director of state campaigns for the 
advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, defended his belief that the 
use of marijuana is less harmful than that of alcohol.

This study suggests that not only is marijuana safer than alcohol, it 
may actually protect against some of the damage that booze causes," 
Fox's press release read. "It's far better for teens not to drink or 
smoke marijuana, but our nation's leaders sent a dangerous message by 
defending laws that encourage the use of alcohol over marijuana."

However, the study doesn't quite live up to press reports heralding 
the findings as a definitive sign of marijuana's benefits, according 
to Dr. Klaus Miczek, director of the Behavioral Core of the 
Neuroscience Research Center at the Tufts' Sackler School of 
Biomedical Studies. Miczek isn't convinced of any causal link between 
marijuana usage and a lesser degree of binge drinking-induced brain damage.

The imaging study represents a very preliminary study that correlates 
imaging data with the diagnosis of binge drinking plus past marijuana 
use," Miczek said. "It certainly does not present a causal 
relationship. [The press] got carried away with this story."

Yet the study, regardless of its preliminary nature, does shed light 
on an ongoing debate  one with potential implications for university 
policy  over the safety and potential health benefits of marijuana, 
particularly in the wake of the decriminalization of the substance in 
the state of Massachusetts last November.

This kind of begs the question of why current college policies make 
marijuana an equal or more of a serious offense than alcohol, which 
drive people to drink, when they might otherwise make a safer choice 
like marijuana," Tvert said. "This study should put off an alarm in 
the heads of universities."

At Tufts, the current marijuana policy considers possession of the 
drug as roughly equivalent to underage alcohol consumption, Dean of 
Student Affairs Bruce Reitman said in an interview with the Daily last year.

Some students, perhaps predictably, are in favor of lessening the 
severity of being caught with marijuana compared to alcohol.

As of now it's kind of hazy if there haven't been any conclusive 
studies, but if it does have health benefits then it shouldn't be as 
serious a thing as drinking," freshman Krishna Soni said.

Regardless of student opinion or the results of the recent study, 
Director of Alcohol and Health Education Ian Wong doesn't foresee any 
change in disciplinary policies regarding those found in possession 
of the drug, at least for now.

Our policy is driven by federal, state and local law," Wong said. 
"Regardless of what the study says, we have to uphold those. We are 
bound by those rules."

For Wong, the addictive nature of marijuana is more important than 
the legal status or potential health benefits of marijuana is its 
addictive nature.

What I kind of look at more is the addictive part if it. If it really 
is restorative, whatever, that's one thing. But what I see in 
students who smoke marijuana is that they never really vandalize 
things or do anything destructive like students who drink, but 
they're failing their classes."

Though Wong said that alcohol is more addictive than marijuana, he 
said that it is nonetheless a drug with potentially harmful side effects.

What people need to understand is that these are all drugs," Wong 
said. "In some ways, alcohol is considered a 'good' drug, when heroin 
and cocaine are 'bad' drugs. I don't know why we categorize them when 
they all have some benefits, if you will, in some ways, and are all 
damaging in others, including marijuana.

As for the issue of, 'If we let kids smoke marijuana, it's better 
than drinking alcohol,' we have no comment on that. Until the 
government says it's legal, marijuana is an illicit drug."

Still, Wong said that the school is "more lenient than the state" 
when punishing marijuana possessors.

We aren't charging kids $100 [as per the state's fine for those 
caught with an ounce or less of marijuana]. You get on Pro[bation] 
One like everyone else."

If and when future scientific and medical testing demonstrates 
marijuana as beneficial and the government responds in kind, the 
school's administration will address the issue, according to Wong.

It's a very interesting question. What it comes down to is good 
drugs, bad drugs, what people accept, what people don't accept. Times 
are changing. This is a timely question," Wong said.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart