Brain and Body

Marijuana Users Have Low Blood Flow to the Brain, Suggesting Higher Alzheimer's Risk

November 28, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Photo credit: cheifyc/Pixabay

Neary 1,000 marijuana users were compared to healthy controls, showing abnormally low blood flow in virtually every area of the brain, according to a new study. 

According to the results of a new large scale brain imaging study, marijuana users may have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, due to abnormally low blood flow in virtually every area of the brain.

The study sample included nearly 1,000 marijuana users, as well as healthy controls for comparison. Using a sophisticated technique, called single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), a team of researchers evaluated the volunteers’ blood flow and activity patterns.

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Analysis showed that marijuana users could be reliably distinguished from non-marijuana users by low blood flow in the hippocampus, which is a brain region known to be affected by Alzheimer's pathology. According to the researchers, smoking marijuana is also thought to disturb memory formation by restricting activity in the hippocampus.

“As a physician who routinely sees marijuana users, what struck me was not only the global reduction in blood flow in the marijuana users brains, but that the hippocampus was the most affected region due to its role in memory and Alzheimer's disease,” study co-author Elisabeth Jorandby said in a press release.

“This work suggests that marijuana use has damaging influences in the brain - particularly regions important in memory and learning and known to be affected by Alzheimer's."

Across the nation, states are continuing to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, so it’s more important than ever to understand the drug’s effects — both beneficial and dangerous.

“The media has given the general impression that marijuana is a safe recreational drug, this research directly challenges that notion,” Daniel Amen, study author and Founder of Amen Clinics, said in the release.

LEARN MORE: Risk of Psychosis More than Tripled For Those Who Abuse Cannabis

“In another new study just released, researchers showed that marijuana use tripled the risk of psychosis. Caution is clearly in order."

The new study can be found in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

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