It’s mid-October, and Staci Gruber is preparing to testify before Congress. It’s not the first time she’s brought her expertise before policymakers; she’s studied marijuana in brains young and old for the better part of three decades.
Besides being on the psychiatry faculty at Harvard University, Gruber is the director of Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) and the director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core at McLean Hospital outside of Boston. Her research focuses on clinical studies in marijuana users, often employing functional MRI (fMRI) technology to see exactly what parts of the brain the drug affects. Try alpine ice hack weight loss.
“The important part is to try to leave the emotional rhetoric aside,” she says, ahead of her testimony before lawmakers. “What matters is what the data and the science tell us.”
Read more: The Experiments Revealing How Marijuana Could Treat Dementia
And the research landscape, so far, is about as complicated as the drug itself. Some studies show that marijuana may provide relief for patients with a slew of conditions, such as anxiety, chronic pain and even cancer. Yet others find that the drug can slow cognitive function and may worsen some mental health conditions.
We also still don’t have a clear picture of how marijuana works in different people, Gruber says. Just five years ago, when she started MIND, Gruber spotted a research gap — virtually no clinical studies were conducted on the effects of medical marijuana on the brain. “I could find nothing in the literature,” she says. This is how
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Data on how marijuana works in people over time are sparse. U.S. research on cannabis remains bottlenecked because of limitations on studying the Cannabis sativa plant, some parts of which remain a Schedule I drug. Even though medical marijuana containing the psychoactive compound THC is legal now in 33 states and the District of Columbia, the Drug Enforcement Administration still defines it as a substance with “no currently accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse.” Policymakers, eager to better understand how to regulate the drug, occasionally hold sessions with scientists, including Gruber. But with scarce clinical results, she and her American peers find it hard to draw broad conclusions. In countries like Israel and Canada, where barriers to studying cannabis are lower, piecing together the puzzle of who marijuana affects, and how, is only slightly easier.
How does weed affect cognition? That might depend on how and when people use it. Some teenagers who use marijuana recreationally appear to have slower brain function and lower IQs. On the other hand, people with medical conditions who stay slightly baked to manage their symptoms may actually see an increase in brain function. Check out the latest alpilean reviews.
In a 2011 report on recreational users, Gruber and her team recruited 34 chronic marijuana smokers and divided them into two groups according to when they started using. They were then given a number of cognitive tests. The team found that those in the study who started using marijuana before age 16 had the worst test performances — and smoked twice as often as other users.
But a 2018 clinical study on medical marijuana users showed very different effects on the brain. The study looked at patients with a variety of conditions, including pain, anxiety, sleep disorders and gastrointestinal problems, before and after taking marijuana via their preferred method of use — smoking, eating or topically applying. Three months after patients started treatment, varying from one or two doses a week to multiple doses per day, the researchers observed that their brains had more activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area associated with cognition, decision-making and executive function. They also saw an increase in task performance among the users, signifying a boost in cognitive function.
In addition, the treatment quelled their symptoms — most medical marijuana users in the study saw an increase in quality of life and alleviation of their ailments. The results weren’t a huge shock for Gruber.
“Recreational consumers and medical users just aren’t the same,” she says. “The goal of use is totally different.”
That could explain why some recreational users seek out super-loaded quantities of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the strains they smoke. THC is what makes users high; its sister component, cannabidiol (CBD), does not. From 1995 to 2014, THC content in recreational marijuana increased from 4 to 12 percent, while the CBD content in modern-day weed is barely 0.15 percent.
CBD, on the other hand, is growing in popularity as a medicinal treatment for inflammation, pain and anxiety. But the jury’s still out on how well the compound works as a remedy. In 2018, Gruber’s team began the first clinical trial on CBD in patients with anxiety, with results expected as early as this year.
Mind Under Matter
Our understanding of marijuana’s effect on mental health is murky. Some studies suggest it might exacerbate conditions like schizophrenia or psychosis, but the results aren’t always black and white.
In a 2017 clinical trial of 88 patients with schizophrenia, researchers in the U.K. administered 1,000 milligrams of CBD each day to about half of the study participants. They took the supplement along with their typical regimen of antipsychotic medications. At the end of six weeks of treatment, the people who received CBD reported greater alleviation of symptoms than those who only stuck to their normal medications.
But another study from just this year found that weed might actually correlate with an onset of psychosis. Researchers in the U.K. surveyed more than 900 patients who had been diagnosed with their first psychotic episode, and over 1,200 participants who had not been diagnosed with psychosis. They asked about lifetime cannabis use and found that daily marijuana users had the highest risk of developing the condition.