Marijuana Ages the Brain? How to Spot a Biased Study

Recent Scientific studies have elucidated a number of cannabis’ benefits for mental health. From depression to traumatic brain injury and anxiety, it has seemed that weed is a miracle drug for the brain. However, one recent study from Amen Clinics in the United Kingdom found that marijuana ages the brain. The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

With so many false pseudo-scientific claims about cannabis in the past, it’s understandable to want to immediately dismiss these claims. What’s even more perplexing is that a plethora of scientific evidence has emerged determining weed to be an excellent treatment option for patients with Alzheimer’s. However, it may be wise to at least consider the findings of the study.

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How Marijuana Ages the Brain

Dr. Daniel Amen UK Alzheimer's doctor
Dr. Daniel Amen has claimed that marijuana is associated with decreased blood flow to the brain (Image via The Bullet Proof Blog)

What characterizes an aging brain? Scientists in this study defined the process by which marijuana ages the brain as reduced blood flow to the organ. The study found that excessive cannabis consumption was correlated with aging the brain by an average of 2.8 years.

The scientists analyzed blood flow through 128 regions of the brains and attempted to determine how old they thought the individual was. After learning the participants’ actual age, scientists compared and contrasted their findings.

The study involved taking a cross-section of the population and examining their brains. In total 62,454 brain scans were collected from 31,227 people. Ages of participants ranged from 9 months to 105 years old. Scans were taken in a variety of mental states including rest and concentration.

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What Other Factors Can Age the Brain?

A variety of health conditions have been known to reduce blood flow to the brain. ADHD has been known to accelerate brain aging by 1.4 years, while bipolar disorder increases it by 1.6 years. The most significant contributor to aging, the study found, was schizophrenia, which ages the brain as many as 4 years.

Reduced blood flow to the brain is no joke. This process can result in the deterioration of the body’s most vital organ and has been linked to stroke and dementia. The leading author of the study, Dr. Daniel Amen, had some precautionary words for those who took cannabis use too lightly.

“The cannabis abuse finding was especially important, as our culture is starting to see marijuana as an innocuous substance. This study should give us pause about it.”
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What Are the Implications of the Study

Old man smokes weed to treat Alzheimer's
Far more established research than Dr. Amen’s has determined marijuana to be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s (image via

The studies that show marijuana ages the brain are quite frankly, nonexistent. This is a new and unprecedented field of research. With so many studies showing that cannabis is a neuroprotective (a substance that protects neurons from damage), this new paper comes into conflict with far more established scientific literature.

Many far more established studies have determined the exact opposite of Dr. Amen’s findings to be true. Research has proven cannabis to not only be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s but also to lower health individuals susceptibility to the disease. Various studies have also determined that cannabis can be instrumental in the removal of plaque from the brain. Plaque on the brain is associated with a number of neurodegenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s and CTE.

Cannabis has also shown to be an effective treatment option for those with Traumatic Brain Injury. Surely something that decreases blood flow in the brain would not be effective for treating a condition characterized by decreased blood flow in the brain. The idea seems preposterous.

Perhaps it is wise to take these findings into consideration but not accept them as scientific fact just yet. Especially given the small population sample, and the novelty and inconsistency of the findings.

Researchers are not immune to bias and Britain is a country known to be notoriously anti-cannabis.

So is it a statement of fact that marijuana ages the brain? Most likely not.

By: Stefan Hosko
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