As the legalization of marijuana sweeps across the nation, it has become more and more important to understand the plant’s effect on the body. Evaluating the health results of the plant as it compares to the effects of both alcohol and tobacco, 2 recreational substances that are legal for adult use, has become a popular focal point. Unfortunately, while the medicinal benefits of marijuana have been felt across the country, some of the research about the plant’s impact on the brain has turned up some conflicting results.
Measuring Cannabis Against Alcohol
This was the motive for researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, headed by lead researcher Rachel Thayer, to conduct a study that would evaluate the effects of both alcohol and cannabis on the brain in a way that had never been done before. The new study, which was published in the journal Addiction, looked at images of parts of the brain that haven’t been evaluated before and the results have led to evidence that marijuana use is actually healthier for the brain than alcohol.
Grey Matter vs. White Matter
Researchers took 853 adults between the ages of 18 and 55 as well as 429 teenagers between 14 and 18, who had a history with using alcohol or marijuana. They aimed to look at images of the brain during long term use of the substances. In particular, researchers focused on examining the grey matter volume and the white matter integrity in the brain. For the most part, grey matter is located near the surface of the brain and helps the neurons to get the nutrients and energy it needs. White matter is found deeper within the brain and it helps neurons communicate with each other. The health of grey and white matter greatly effects brain function.
Researchers discovered after evaluating users who each used the substances in various ways, that high alcohol use decreased grey matter volume and white matter integrity in adults, and to a lesser degree in teenagers. On the other hand, those who had used marijuana over the last 30 days showed no impacted grey or white matter volume or integrity. This was the case for both adults and teenagers. This means that, essentially, alcohol has a greater negative impact on brain function than marijuana does.
“While marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol,” the study’s co-author Kent Hutchison told Medical News Today.
While 29 states have now legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, more and more states have decided to embrace and legalize the plant for recreational use by adults over the age of 21. 8 states have already ended prohibition, including Colorado, Washington and California. In fact the plant is now legal in approximately 20 percent of the country. The most recent polls indicate that 60 percent of the country is in favor of legalizing the plant for recreational use. This lends to the idea that more states are likely to continue legalizing the plant. The new research will no doubt help politicians and the public make more informed choices about marijuana reform in the future.