Pubdate: Wed, 23 Apr 2014
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Copyright: 2014 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


Study Hour.

"Taking music lessons as a child could physically change your

This headline ran in the HuffingtonPost last year. Unless you read the
HuffPost regularly, you might not have heard about it. There was no
rash of stories across the country regarding the brain damage wreaked
by music lessons. Actually the findings about music lessons, and music
itself, were that they had a positive impact on our brains. But the
brains of musicians are definitely wired differently than

Here's another, more ominous, headline about changes to the brain that
was published last year:

"Caffeine consumption slows down brain development." Maybe you caught
this on last September, but then again maybe you
didn't. Somebody else may have mentioned it, but I don't recall there
being a wave of concern washing across the country about the perils of
caffeine. Caffeine is that good drug that gets you pumped up in the
morning and, via refills available in almost any office, keeps you
cranked all day. Go somewhere and wait for a meeting, somebody will
offer you coffee packed with caffeine.

I've heard that meditation can physically change your brain. A quick
Google search confirmed that this is true. Physical exercise changes
your brain. Alcohol makes profound changes in your brain that are
known to be bad.

And just last month, Newsmax brandished a headline reading "Smoking
linked to brain changes." A study found that young people who were
relatively heavy cigarette smokers exhibited structural brain changes
in the short run.

All of this is to put some perspective on a recent article in The
Journal of Neuroscience reporting a study done by researchers from
Harvard and Northwestern University that found that marijuana users
had differences in their brains compared to non-marijuana users.

Guess what? This news was repeated ad nauseam across the country.
"Casual marijuana use may damage your brain," CNN reported. "More
joints equal more damage," wrote Science Daily. "Recreational pot use
harmful to young people's brains," declared

It must be time to throw away your bongs and stop the damage. Call Mom
and tell her she was right. Wait, you don't have to call. Just walk
upstairs - because your lazy, crazy pot-smoking butt has been living
in her basement - and give her the apology she so rightly deserves.

Well, let's think about this for a minute. For starters I don't want
to discount the findings. Yes, the study of 20 college students in the
Boston area showed that so-called casual marijuana smokers - two to 30
joints each week - showed changes in their brains in areas related to
motivation and emotion. And since your brain runs pretty much your
whole self, there's always room for concern when things start changing
up there.

Keep in mind the study said there were changes in the brain, not brain
damage as some were claiming. The anti-marijuana world seemed to
gleefully declare, "Hallelujah, we've finally found out what's wrong
with that stuff." Maybe your straitlaced brother-in-law laid into you
with that bit of information over Easter dinner. Those who believe
there's something wrong with the herb now seem to have something
factual to hang their hats on.

On the other hand, it's kind of interesting to note that Carl Sagan,
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and President Bill Clinton - all
bona fide smart people - have admitted to marijuana use. Maya Angelou,
Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie are in that club too. On the other
hand, President George W. Bush and Rush Limbaugh have also admitted to
marijuana use. So maybe this marijuana thing cuts both ways.

The point is that marijuana doesn't turn you into a slobbering cretin
who spouts gibberish. It certainly didn't have that effect on the
aforementioned group of super-achievers. Did I mention Ted Turner and
Martha Stewart? Actually if someone really wants to know the long-term
effects of marijuana use, there are plenty of subjects walking the
streets, sitting in boardrooms or just about anywhere else in society.
You can start with the list of the top 50 most influential marijuana

But let's get back to the study, which only reported that there are
changes, nothing more. They did not report cognitive deficits in
users. Nothing in the study concerned itself with any behavioral,
social, educational or legal problems associated with the subjects'
marijuana use. In fact, all of the subjects (including the group of 20
nonusers) were 18- to 24-year-old college students from the Boston
area. They were screened for physical and mental health before they
were admitted to the study. In any way that we know about, users and
nonusers in the study pretty much have similar lives.

One thing though, their definition of "casual users" doesn't fit with
my definition. The subject who was smoking 30 joints a week is not
what I would consider a casual user. I'm not casting aspersions on
this person, but he or she is blowing four-plus joints a day. That's
not casual use.

And here's something else to consider. "The federal government holds a
patent on marijuana as a neuroprotectant," says Paul Armentano, deputy
director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana
Laws. "That runs counter to the notion that these same constituents
cause brain damage."

The feds indeed have had this patent for a decade. That happened under
George W. Bush.

Armentano has written extensively about the known science about
marijuana and has served as an expert witness in several court cases
involving its effects. He also says, "We know that younger people's
use of nicotine and alcohol causes problems but do not use that fact
as a justification to arrest and prosecute adults who use those
substances responsibly."

Legal marijuana in Washington state and Colorado is for adults 21 and
older. The only provision for young people in the legalization drive
is in medical therapies. Much of this argument should be a moot point.
Nobody is pushing for adolescents, whose brains are still developing,
to have access to legal marijuana. And adults, well, adults should be
able to make that choice.

When you weigh all the pluses and minuses, marijuana compares very
favorably to the legal intoxicants available to adults. Nothing is 100
percent good or bad. If you take a look at the information supplied
with most prescription drugs, there is a long list of potential side
effects that sometimes cause things like cancer, strokes and even
death. Marijuana has none of those side effects.

So remember that the new study only documents brain change, not brain
damage. And the human brain goes through changes all the time. Unless
you're high on reefer madness, this latest is nothing more than a tiny
piece in the overall puzzle.
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