August 13, 2014, at 2:13 PM | By Rachel Daly
As support for legalized recreational marijuana use increases, some have warned that there is presently little research indicating the effects of low to moderate use of the drug. However, the results of a small but sobering study released in April by several Boston-based researchers have shed light on the damaging effects of even casual use of the drug among young adults, according to the Society for Neuroscience. The results of the study may hold import for colleges and universities, which struggle perennially with binge drinking, drug use, and the subsequent host of negative decisions.
The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, which compared high-resolution MRI brain scans of recreational marijuana users aged 18 to 25 with those of nonusers, found significant abnormalities in the left nucleus accumbens and the left amygdala of marijuana users, even those who smoked just once per week. These regions of the brain are responsible for pleasure and reward, processing memory, emotional reactions, and the assessment of negative consequences.
Previously, the only existing studies on the subject had applied to those who smoked excessively—for example, once per day for approximately three years. This study targets those who smoke only a few times per week.
From a moral standpoint, Dr.Taylor Marshall has made a Thomistic argument against the use of marijuana, asserting that it inexcusably inhibits man’s most God-like faculty—rationality—thus diminishing users to the level of beasts. He distinguishes it from alcohol, the effects of which can be graduated, and from medical use of marijuana and similar drugs. He ultimately concludes that its use is immoral. Even his critics, who consider the effects of marijuana to be as graduated as those of alcohol, concede that the drug’s recreational use is not altogether benign.
Scientists agree that while the study examined only a small sample, its results encourage deeper study and a greater dissemination of information. “There is this general perspective out there that using marijuana recreationally is not a problem —that it is a safe drug,” said co-author of the study, Anne Blood, in a News.Micarticle. “We are seeing that this is not the case.”
It is yet to be seen whether the expected growth in research on the topic may begin to curtail some of the marijuana use that has been on the rise since the mid-1990s.