Chronic alcohol use is associated with lower gray matter volume, and it was recently reported that alcohol use showed negative associations with widespread gray matter (GM) volume even among young adults. The current study aimed to test the strength of association between alcohol use and GM volume; alcohol use and white matter integrity among adults and adolescents.
A recent study suggests that, when it comes to brain health, alcohol is worse than cannabis.
As the liberalization of cannabis law spreads, more and more researches indicate the potential harm and benefits of cannabis use. However, it looks like alcohol might have more detrimental qualities.
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Colorado study confirms that alcohol is worse than cannabis when it comes to brain health
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder reviewed existing studies that analyzed the effects of alcohol and cannabis on the brain.
Their findings showed that alcohol consumption is associated with long-term changes in the structure of the white and grey matter in the brain.
However, cannabis use does not seem to have a significant long-term effect on brain structure.
Research manager, Rachel Thayer, and a research team from the Department of Psychology and Neurology at the University of Colorado Boulder have recently published their results in Addiction magazine.
It is estimated that around 22.2 million people in the United States have used cannabis in the last month, making it the “most commonly used illicit drug” in the country.
In the U.S., cannabis legalization is increasing for both therapeutic and recreational purposes. As a result of changing laws, researchers are trying to find out more about how cannabis can affect health and what damage it can cause.
Recently, scientists have discovered that cannabinoids (which are the active compounds in cannabis) can help treat migraines, and newer research has linked the use of cannabis to increased sexual desire.
There are still mixed results on cannabis use
In this latest study, Rachel Thayer and her research team tried to find out more about the impact of cannabis use on the brain.
The co-author of the study, Kent Hutchison, also from the Department of Psychology and Neurology, notes that, to date, the studies in which this relationship was studied have shown mixed results.
“When you look at these studies from years ago, you will see that one study has shown that cannabis use is associated with a reduction in the volume of the hippocampus. The next study will show that the use of cannabis is associated with changes in the cerebellum. The point is that there is no consistency in all these studies,” said Hutchison.
Grey matter and the influence of alcohol
In order to fill the gap in this inconsistency, scientists have conducted a new analysis on existing brain imaging data (MRI).
They looked at how the use of cannabis affects the white and grey matter in the brain, as well as comparing its effects with alcohol.
Grey matter is the tissue of the brain, which consists mainly of the bodies of nerve cells. White matter is a deeper cerebral tissue containing myelinated nerve fibers, which are branches protruding from the nerve cells and which transmit electrical impulses to other cells and tissues.
The team notes that any reduction in the size of a white or grey matter or loss of integrity can lead to impairment of brain function.
“Alcohol has made us know for decades that it has had a bad effect on the brain,” notes Hutchison. “But we still don’t know enough about marijuana.”
Alcohol is worse than cannabis in the reduction of grey and white matter
The study included 853 adults aged 18-55 years old and 439 teenagers aged 14-18 years old. All participants had different habits in terms of alcohol and cannabis consumption.
Scientists have discovered that alcohol consumption, especially among adults who have been drinking for many years, is associated with a reduction in the volume of the grey matter, as well as with a reduction in the integrity of the white matter.
However, it seems that the use of cannabis does not affect the structure of grey or white matter in teenagers and adults. Based on these findings, scientists believe that drinking alcohol can be much more harmful to brain health than using cannabis.
“Although cannabis may also have some negative consequences, they are far from similar to the negative consequences of drinking alcohol,” said Hutchison.
As for the possible benefits of cannabis, Thayer and her team note that clear knowledge is still missing and further research is needed to fully understand the possible benefits of cannabis use.
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