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NORML Responds To Latest Media Frenzy Over Pot And ‘Brain Damage’ Fears


Marijuana brain stressBy Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

The mainstream media launched into a reefer mad frenzy this week after researchers from Harvard University in Boston and Northwestern University in Chicago published the results of a neuroimaging study assessing the brains of a small cohort of regular marijuana smokers and non-users. The brain scans identified various differences between the two groups in three aspects of brain morphometry: gray matter density, volume, and shape. These differences triggered dozens of high-profile media outlets to lose their collective minds. Here’s a sampling:

CNN: Casual marijuana use may damage your brain

Financial Post: Study proves occasional marijuana use is mind altering

Time: Recreational pot use harmful to young people’s brains

International Business Times: Casual Marijuana Smoking at Young Age May Cause Irreparable Brain Damage – Even at One Joint Per Week

UK Telegraph: Smoking cannabis will change you. That’s not a ‘risk’, it’s a certainty

Yet despite the sensationalist headlines, the study itself was hardly newsworthy. Decades of research pertaining to the potential residual adverse effects of cannabis on brain cognition have failed to support the notion that marijuana poses any sort of permanent brain deficits. And as I write today on Alternet.org, this study similarly failed to report any sort of real-world adverse consequences associated with cannabis use:

Why the Media’s Fear-Mongering on Marijuana Effects on the Brain Is Faulty
via Alternet.org

[excerpt]Using high-resolution MRI imaging, scientists identified specific changes in particular regions of the brain that they inferred were likely due to marijuana exposure. (Since researchers only performed a single MRI session, they could not say definitively whether these changes were, in fact, caused by cannabis or whether they existed prior to subjects’ use of the plant.) Notably, however, these changes did not appear to be associated with any overt adverse effects in subjects’ actual cognition or behavior. (Separate studies assessing youth use of legal intoxicants, such as nicotine and alcohol, have also been associated with documented changes in brain structure. Ditto for caffeine intake in preclinical models. These findings have received far less media attention.)

Both the cases (20 marijuana users) and controls (20 nonusers) in the study were recruited from local universities, undermining the notion that the alleged ‘brain damaged potheads’ were any more academically challenged than their non-using peers. Further, as summarized by HealthDay: “Psychiatric interviews revealed that the pot smokers did not meet criteria for drug dependence. For example, marijuana use did not interfere with their studies, work or other activities, and they had not needed to increase the amount they used to get the same high.”

In other words, case subjects and controls appeared to function similarly in their professional and academic endeavors.

You can read the full text of my response here.

Fortunately, my critique of this latest paper — and in particular the mainstream media’s sensationalist and erroneous coverage of its findings — is far from the only one. Below are links to several other excellent analyses:

MedPage Today: Striking a Nerve: Bungling the Cannabis Story

Daily Beast: No, Weed Won’t Rot Your Brain

Bits of DNA (blog): Does researching casual marijuana use cause brain abnormalities?

DPA Blog: Does Smoking Dope Really Make You a Dope?

Source: NORML - make a donation


About Author

Johnny Green


  1. And another juvenile steps forth, hits the bong, and claims pot doesn’t affect his thinking. Idiot

  2. major minority on

    Your too old to understand.. Dont act like u didn’t hit the bong a few times in the 60s and 70s… Dam contradicters and hipacrits… Or dont tell me u did a bill Clinton and didn’t inhale ..

  3. Making marijuana
    legal for recreational use can have adverse effects on people’s health and many
    don’t even realize it. Many states are using medical marijuana and seven states
    are soon to join Washington and Colorado by adding recreational use. Most
    people don’t really care about the health effects, and are more worried that
    people will be “high” all the time and life won’t go on. The use of medical
    marijuana does have health benefits, although there are just as many health
    problems. Long-term side effects have the same respiratory problems as
    cigarette smokers. The health effects that long term use of using marijuana for
    “fun” can have major problems on your whole body. Colorado has already had
    deaths related not caused from the use of marijuana candy. The reason for these
    deaths is because there is so little known information for using marijuana in
    any form, that they don’t yet have the correct doses for using it in a candy
    form. The use of medical marijuana can be very helpful for those suffering from
    cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, muscle spasms, and other health problems. Making it
    legal for adults 21 or over has shown that even adults can’t be trusted to use
    marijuana in a sensible way, staying home and not choosing to drive can still
    be a very dangerous lesson that society has to learn. The legal system has to
    take a step back and maybe take more time to research all the effects it has on
    health and that it could have to the working community that has employees that
    use on a regular basis. My older brother has used marijuana for many years, and
    my sister as well. My brother didn’t have to many problems going to work and
    being a useful member or society, but my sister has out casted everyone around
    her and needed rehab to help herself and for her family to want them around
    their children. She has since made the effort and has had a great relationship
    with her nieces and nephews. After having family that ruined their lives and
    has made the come back to become great aunt and uncle I do see that marijuana isn’t
    all bad just people need to take a stronger look at the problem people already

  4. The best way to prove the safety of cannabis is to have 20 users smoke a bone with the entire crew of a jumbo jet from all flights from LA to NYC leaving between 7-10 PM for 365 days and fly round-trip. If there are no incidents then it’s plain that a joint is safe.

    Also, a secondary test needs to take place. Each deep brain aneurysm surgical procedure in one city’s hospitals needs to be performed by a doctor smoking a joint prior to surgery. So let’s do that for 365 days at a Boston hospital with the non-smoking doctors at all the NYC hospitals and compare the survival rates.

    We need to put-up or shut-up. We cannot say pot smoking is safe in the workplace and that employers have no right to drug test until we can prove its safety,

  5. Well that’s the Kevin Sabet method of research. Come up with an outcome that you want the study to say. Then tailor the study to get the PRE-DETERMINED outcome that you wanted in the first place. Oh BTW… he’ll OMIT important parts of the study that SKEWED the outcome of the research (if you can call it research)…

  6. Mt Shasta News just ran, along with countless other news sources, a sensationalist piece of “Reefer Madness” junk science, with the headline “Smoking Marijuana Just Once Per Week May Cause Brain Damage”. The researchers used a ridiculously small sample of young “stoners”, only 20, with a non-stoner control group of twenty. The average consumption in the “stoner” group, that the researchers characterized as “light recreational users” was six joints per week ! Show me a group of young men who get DRUNK six times a week, and I will show you some REAL brain damage ! Plus I will show you liver damage, damage from fighting and car accidents… Pot is by FAR a more benign intoxicant, a safer and gentler alternative to toxic, addictive (yet still legal) alcohol.

    The headline screams “MARIJUANA… BRAIN DAMAGE !”. But the research says the brain changes… not necessarily is “damaged”. Does marijuana change your brain ? Of COURSE pot changes your brain ! THAT’S why people SMOKE it ! Is
    your brain depressed ? Smoke some… Do you have PTSD ? Smoking can help… Have epilepsy ? Pot can DEFINITELY help… Suffer from ALCOHOLISM (which can KILL you… or someone else) ? Non-toxic and non-addictive pot will
    make you healthier and help you live longer…Having trouble sleeping ? Suffering from pain ? Eating disorder ? Much (if not MOST) of what we suffer is IN OUR HEAD… in our brain ! In a society that takes a pill for this and a drink for that, we CHANGE our brains all the time ! Pot is just a natural and organic way to do it more safely…
    Another overlooked fact from the study is that none of the participants reported any abnormal effects from smoking on their jobs, health, family relations or love life….

    So what’s the problem ? Sensationalist headlines from a study no doubt funded by Big Pharma, government agencies and corporations that profit $$$ from the status quo, the failed “War on Drugs”…

  7. Main stream media is a business. They survive by providing entertainment to as many viewers, listeners and readers as possible, and any information they might include in their product is secondary to the goal of making a profit. On the other hand, non-profit, publicly-supported media such as PBS is usually even-handed and accurate, although many conservatives dislike them (perhaps for that reason.)

  8. I would love to be part of one of these studies. I have been smoking pot for 35 years. For the most part I have been smoking on regular basis the whole time. A little more here and a little less there. 7years ago I had a major neck surgery because of Spinal Stenosis. I still suffer from pain caused from nerve damage. I take prescribed pain meds and take them as prescribed. I have been able to keep my dosage fairly low considering how long I have been taking this. I believe it is because I smoke pot daily.
    Study my brain. Hell I can still remember my phone number I had as a child. They have always claimed it kill your memor. Look at my brain and tell me what can be seen.

  9. “Claims to show small deficits on neuropsychological function” All this does is show us anecdotal research as to the reason that, our Government is all screwed up. From this President on down to the person in a cubical in the basement of any Gov. agency. As we know, their actions speak volumes of a warped inconsistent thought process. (lets include State and Local elected individuals in the equation also) They all openly admit, (because it’s in fashion now to make such statements) as to their young indiscretion’s (lol) when it comes to the question asked “Did you ever use Pot” Oba-wand openly admits to his use as more than average and more than just cannabis. So to me, that explains it all. Like 8 points lower in I Q.. And he’s the President of The United States. And now he is diagnosed and documented with a neuropsychological defect. (This is posted in a jocularly fashion).
    I also re-posted this from a similar topic.

  10. lol.. I just had a brain scan and my brain was absolutely normal. More BS propaganda.

  11. Robert Hancock on

    Propaganda is right, I along with many others have consumed for 40+yrs, I’m the same stupid I was then. Pharma knows you can grow your own, that’s the controversy, $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ any question, the answer is simple, the problem is big business want to control. When is anyone going to bring this to the forefront, it’s getting to complicated.

  12. Robert Hancock on

    No one understands the complexities of the brain. Still guess work in many ways, I know it more now than every, but isn’t that true about all science. Let’s see the same study done on the pharma poisons.

  13. The MSM (main stream media), I call them the propaganda media, is a tool for the political class. Some of their tactics are; divide and conquer (Dem VS Rep), and to politicized science like this marijuana study. I think we can all agree that reefer madness is politicized science. And if they do it with this, what else do they do it with? Maybe Noam Chomsky was right about the manufacturing of consent in America.
    I wonder what will be the next war they will try to sell us? Wait, what, dems and reps said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

  14. stellarvoyager on

    So what they found is that weed use is associated with increased brain density in a certain part of the brain. That sounds like a benefit, not a harm.

  15. I agree. I am left wondering why they even thought this study was scientific in ANY way, and who was really behind it. By ignoring such important variables this is nothing but bunk and no conclusions should be drawn at all. I can’t believe someone would want their name associated with it. I would like to see someone do this study properly so the truth can be known, and use a larger number of people.

  16. A study just came in that showed which brain lasted not only longer but developed super creative abilities. See for yourself.

  17. This is irresponsible on their part to publish such JUNK science! It was also my understanding that Alcohol binge drinking was also involved in the marijuana users group but NOT in the controlled group. So we really didn’t get to the bottom of SHIT, w/exception to the FACT that this study is JUNK!

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