An international team of researchers from King’s College London and the Sapienza University of Rome has published a finding which suggests that high cannabis use is linked to damage occurring to the two parts of the brain hemisphere which communicates with each other.
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The excessive smoking of skunk-like cannabis is associated with damage to parts of the brain responsible for communication. Although scientists are already aware that long-term smoking of cannabis raises the risks of psychosis, and smoking increases negative changes in brain functions and structure; but then, this is the first time that scientists would analyze the impacts of cannabis on the structure of the brain.
In a study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, the researchers disclosed that the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in recent cannabis is more potent than it used to be a decade ago.
Dr. Paola Dazzan, Reader in Neurobiology of Psychosis from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, and senior researcher on the study noted that:
“We found that frequent use of high potency cannabis significantly affects the structure of white matter fibers in the brain, whether you have psychosis or not. This reflects a sliding scale where the more cannabis you smoke and the higher the potency, the worse the damage will be.”
Conducting tests on 56 patients with psychosis at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) and on 43 others who were not suffering from any psychosis, the researchers employed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) technique to assess the white matter in the brains of the patients.
The white matter of the brain is also known as the corpus callosum, and facilitates communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The white matter is made up of nerve cells which connect all parts of the brain together. Meanwhile, there are lots of cannabinoid receptors in the white matter, and the THC chemical in cannabis smoking interacts with these receptors.
“This white matter damage was significantly greater among heavy users of high potency cannabis than in occasional or low potency users, and was also independent of the presence of a psychotic disorder,” Dr. Tiago Reis Marques, a senior research fellow from the IoPPN at King's College London.
“There is an urgent need to educate health professionals, the public and policymakers about the risks involved with cannabis use,” explained Dr. Dazzan. “As we have suggested previously, when assessing cannabis use it is extremely important to gather information on how often and what type of cannabis is being used.
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These details can help quantify the risk of mental health problems and increase awareness on the type of damage these substances can do to the brain.”
NIHR Biomedical Research Center at South London, Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust, as well as the King's College London funded the study.