From the proliferation of large pharmacies across the country, we are a nation addicted to pills, lotions, powders, and creams of all kinds. We see ads extolling the benefits of these products but we also hear cautious words of possible and dire consequences. When in pain, faith often moves toward the quick-fix approach. In variances among individuals and homeostasis, sometimes there are consequences with anything you ingest or apply. Debate continues about the overwhelming attraction to marijuana benefits or consequences. A study, Cannabis Use is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users, raised eyebrows today.
Colorado was one of the first places in the USA to legalize the sale of marijuana, a popular, recreational, feel-good drug. The added tax revenue is a major bonus. The publication of a study in the Journal of Neuroscience (4/16/2014) spread over the news media. The size and shape of two brain regions involved in emotion and motivation may differ in young adults who smoke/don’t-smoke marijuana at least once a week, according to the new study.
The study compared a group of 20 college-age people who claim never to have used marijuana and 20 college-age people who use marijuana at least once a week. This sample is rather small when one considers that close to 20 million people in the USA admit to recent use of marijuana. The study showed, through MRI studies, deviations in a certain brain region among marijuana users over non-users. The primary differences were in the amygdala region, found in the limbic system of the midbrain, Studies of this region have demonstrated significant evidence that associate the amygdala as a multi-channel area of emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation.
The amygdala, through neurotransmitters and other regions, also aids in the retention of long-term memories. It may play a role in why you enjoy certain flavors or certain colors and dislike others. This all sound simple enough but the amygdala has proven itself to be a very sophisticated little portion of the brain.
Past studies have in inferred that the amygdala may play a role in gender attraction/orientation, criminality, and all sorts of conditions. A product of many studies, there is still very little known about the amygdala and its role in the neural development of the brain. Furthermore, even less is known about the variations of the brain and why one might be talented as a butcher, or a baker, or a candlestick maker. There have been few MRI or fMRI generalized studies among the “normal” population in large-enough scale to make reliable determinations.
This marijuana study was done with the collective minds of these established institutions – Northwestern University and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. It makes for a good news story. Yet, like many studies, few are large enough to infer causality and provide a solid link to what actually has been tested and found. Even the most academic e3xperiments suffer the pratfalls of a quasi-experiment design. Does marijuana use alter the amygdala or does an abnormality in the amygdala result in increasing the possible use of marijuana?
Also, among those 18-25 year old students who claim not using marijuana, how many were truly honest?
If you overeat you can become fat, develop diabetes or cardio-vascular disease. If you smoke, you are more likely to develop respiratory illness. If you consume too much alcohol, you can damage your liver. If you consume too much water, you may damage your renal system. A retrospective observation may show (that apart from genetics) anything you do excessively may be hazardous to your health.
This MRI Marijuana study was well written and an enjoyable read. There will continue to be advocates and opponents of marijuana use and this observation will do next to nothing to impact these thoughts and desires,
Marijuana may be more pleasurable to some than to others. Though reported non-addictive, some may need more marijuana than others. As to the role of the amygdala, there might be something there. Normal is only a perceived statistic. Further studies and larger samples need to be tested. When it comes to pleasure or pain, the amygdala may be involved.