Last month’s Capitol Hill briefing on “Marijuana and the Brain” was the latest in a series hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and sponsored by the Dana Foundation. These sessions are designed to educate Congressional members and their staffs about topical issues in neuroscience, and are open to the public.
The luncheon briefing featured four guest speakers who addressed the need for a thorough understanding of both the pros and cons of legislation that allows for the use of medical and recreational marijuana. The discussion began with opening remarks by Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who noted the potential role marijuana may play in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, glaucoma, and epilepsy, among others. He remarked:
The most important thing you need to know is that most of the research on marijuana has been around the use for recreational purposes and whether or not that may continue…to have other adverse effects. Very little—less than 6%—of the research has been focused on what marijuana may be able to do relative to actual treatment and prevention of diseases and disorders of the brain.
Nora Volkow, M.D., of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and a member of the Dana Alliance followed with statistics on increased usage of marijuana among teenagers in Colorado—one of four states to legalize recreational use of marijuana but not for teenagers. With an expressed concern over the drug’s availability in the US, she noted that “[f]requent use of the drug before the age of 17 can impair cognition and is linked to lower rates of high school graduation.”
In Europe scientists have been studying the effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain for the past few decades. Earlier this year, Cerebrum featured an article by Sir Robin Murray, M.D., of London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College. “Appraising the Risks of Reefer Madness” explores studies that have shown the link between heavy usage of marijuana and an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.
The subject of marijuana use continues to spark wide debate, especially with the growing number of US states passing laws that permit legal use of the plant. In an effort to further research, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, along with eight other institutes and offices at the National Institutes of Health, is launching a 10-year study involving 10,000 children and adolescents from ages 10 to 20. “It will assess the effects of drugs, including marijuana, on the brain development of individuals as they grow to adulthood,” Volkow said at the AAAS briefing.
To learn more, watch a video of the full discussion here.
– Seimi Rurup