Drinking Alcohol Causes More Damage To The Brain Compared To Marijuana

Drinking Alcohol Causes More Damage To The Brain Compared To Marijuana, Study Says With marijuana legalization becoming a trend, more and more research is done, about both the potential benefits and damaging effects of cannabis. Many people believe marijuana is less damaging than already legal and widely used drugs, like alcohol and tobacco, and this study adds more support to that belief.

Alcohol consumption is much more damaging to the brain than using Marijuana, according to a recent study [1]. The study is conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder, and published in December 2017 edition of Addiction, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The study analyzed brain scan images of 853 adults, aged 18-55, and 439 teens aged 14-18, and looked for signs of brain damage and how it relates to alcohol or cannabis consumption, based on 30-day use volume.

In the brain scan images, the team looked at both Gray Matter (GM) volume, and White Matter (WM) integrity, as indicators of brain damage. Gray matter is made of nerve cells (neurons), and make up the darker outer parts of the brain. White matter is made of bundles of neural links (axons) that connect various parts of the brain together and carries electrical signals from one neuron to another. As a rough analogy, gray matter is like computers connected to the Internet, and white matter is like fiber optic and DSL lines of Internet infrastructure, connecting computers to one another.

Both GM volume and WM integrity are important for proper brain function. And the damage can be seen in brain scan images of alcoholics, as well as people who suffer from other diseases which damage the brain, like Multiple Sclerosis, or Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also statistically corrected for the use of alcohol when looking for the effects of marijuana, and the other way around. This was important because many people in the study used both of the substances.

The study found alcohol consumption was linked to a decrease in Gray Matter Volume in both teens and adults. In adults, alcohol consumption also was linked to decreased White Matter Integrity. No negative association has been found for cannabis users, for either Gray Matter Volume or White Matter Integrity.

Therefore researchers conclude alcohol is much more likely to cause brain damage than marijuana.

According to Dr. Hutchinson, [2] one of the co-authors of the study “The difference between the alcohol and the cannabis is pretty dramatic… While marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol. “.

However, there is still much more research needed to be done about the effects of marijuana on the brain. Effects of alcohol have been studied for decades, and its harm is well known. But with marijuana, there is little research about especially potential beneficial effects.

Hutchington adds: “With alcohol, we’ve known it’s bad for the brain for decades,” “But for cannabis, we know so little.”

One factor is because marijuana is still a widely restricted substance, most government funding for research is about harms of marijuana. And the private sector is also reluctant to fund research because drug companies cannot patent a natural substance from a plant. So they cannot get a return on investment. Therefore studies about the benefits of marijuana are difficult to fund.

This study also has its own limitations. For one, the study only looked at the effects of 30-day and not long-term use. And another one is, most marijuana users were not heavy users in the study. Also, the brain is quite complicated, and brain scan images may not be able to detect all kinds of possible damages. Therefore many more studies must be done about how marijuana affects the brain, and this study alone must not be taken as gospel truth.

Still, this study fits into the scientific body of evidence that suggests marijuana is less addictive than legal and more widely used substances like alcohol or tobacco.

The study also has legal and public policy implications. [3] “There are limited funds in the public coffer for minimizing the damage of people’s recreational substance use, so focusing on the substance that does the most damage might make sense,” Dr. Hutchington said. Researchers also stated that there are many more scientific questions to be answered, and future studies could look into long term effects of marijuana by observing same people over a long period of time.

Another area that more research needs to be done, is about the interactions of marijuana and alcohol. This is important because many people tend to use both substances.

Bottom line is, there is a great need for much research done on the topic, and legal restrictions and current financial incentives are not helping.

Sources cited:
[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28646566
[2] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320895.php [3]https://www.colorado.edu/asmagazine/2018/02/02/cannabinoids-are-easier-brain-booze-stud y-finds