The results of a new study on cannabis show even casual users may face health risks from the drug. Researchers at Northwestern University and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School found that casual use of cannabis altered multiple brain regions.
The study found that people who used cannabis at least once per week had altered the regions of their brains associated with rewards. The nucleus accumbens, a reward centre in the brain was enlarged in casual users. It was also an abnormal shape and the structure of that portion of the brain had changed.
The study found that the more cannabis a person used, the more pronounced the changes in their brain. The changes also occurred in users amygdala which is a region of the brain that affects emotion.
Study co-author, Dr. Hans Breiter said the findings of the study could challenge the idea that casual use of cannabis is safe.
"Abnormal neuronal growth in the nucleus accumbens could be an indication that the brain is forming new connections that may encourage further use of marijuana. The study results fit with animal studies that show when rats are given THC, their brains rewire and form many new connections. It may be that we're seeing a type of drug learning in the brain," Breiter said.
While this research shows changes in the brain, further research is needed to fully understand what affects these changes have. If cannabis really is promoting, “ drug learning” inside users brains, scientists will need more information to accurately gage the risk a casual user is taking.
Cannabis has also come under fire after the findings of a separate study show it may cause negative cardiovascular effects. The research shows that young people in particular can suffer heart problems or other issues because of cannabis use.
This second study does not, however, prove that cannabis is the cause of these problems. The researchers found that cannabis was most likely to cause real harm to those with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions.
To learn more about cannabis, check out the Life Works Knowledge Centre.