Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder and the Oregon Health & Science University investigated neuroimaging data among both adults (ages 18-55 years) and adolescents (ages 14-18 years) that regularly use cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids are natural compounds extracted from the seeds, stalks and flowers of cannabis plants like hemp. They interact with our natural systems and have shown therapeutic promise for a wide array of conditions. Studies suggest cannabinoids can potentially help treat epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, migraine, depression, and anxiety. As cannabinoids are increasingly used for medical purposes, there’s more scrutiny on how long-term use may impact the brain.
The investigators were specifically looking for whether cannabinoids caused any observable changes in the volume and integrity of the brain’s gray matter and white matter. A major component of the central nervous system, gray matter serves to process information in the brain. White matter, found in the deeper tissues of the brain, is composed of bundles of myelinated axons that connect different parts of gray matter to each other. There is a general association with a person’s gray and white matter volume and their intelligence, memory, attention, and language. A drop in volume would suggest that over time cannabinoids could adversely affect a person’s cognitive ability.
The researchers observed no negative structural measures in adolescents and adults that had consumed cannabinoids. Cannabinoid use had no adverse impact on grey or white matter volume.
A 2015 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience also used imaging data to examine the effects of cannabinoids on brain structure. Those investigators also found cannabinoids to not be linked to adverse changes in the brain.
In the new study, the researchers did find chronic alcohol use to adversely affect brain structure. Alcohol was linked to lower gray matter volume and white matter in adults and lower gray matter volume in adolescents.
This latest study was published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Addiction.
Learn more about cannabinoids and what research has so far discovered about their therapeutic properties by visiting our education page.
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