This Is Your Brain on Weed...

POSTED ON IN Research BY Christopher Centeno

I live in the middle of the world's biggest "Rocky Mountain High": Boulder, Colorado. Several years ago, Colorado legalized recreational pot, and the businesses that have sprung up around weed are are growing like weeds. You can now walk down the street and buy everything from marijuana-laced gummy bears to pizza to ice cream. Even crazier, the likes of Doritos and the local Taco Bell have seen a curious spike in sales at 2 a.m.

So with all of this THC being consumed, is there a silver lining or a huge problem mounting? While there's research on both sides of that argument, I'd like to focus on an interesting study that came across my desk this week. Turns out that if you're old, getting stoned may help your brain, and if you're young, you may just end up "stoned."

The Grand Colorado Social Experiment

I believe we were the first state in the union to legalize and quickly commercialize recreational weed. John Denver was smiling in his grave that night. What has happened since has been fascinating to watch.

First, I was a nerd growing up, so I had little opportunity for exposure to pot. My mom and dad had grown up with the Reefer Madness movies where people smoking weed went on Manson-like killing sprees! You get the picture...

In 2012, when Colorado went recreational, it was a huge experiment. While I'm neither an advocate nor a hater of legalization, I can tell you that it's added another dimension to raising teens. Just one more thing to worry about as a parent. In the meantime, the research about the effects of THC on the brain has been all over the map. This morning's entry caught my attention.

The Most Recent "Pot Brain" Study

The study, published this week, explored the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, on the brains of mice in three age groups: 2 months, 12 months, and 18 months. Correlating this to human years, this would roughly be youth, middle-aged, and old-aged respectively. Researchers discovered that in aging mice (in the 12- and 18-month groups) there was an improvement in both mental performance as well as gene activity in the brain: “Here we show that a low dose of…tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reversed the age-related decline in cognitive performance of mice aged 12 and 18 months…THC treatment restored hippocampal gene transcription patterns such that the expression profiles of THC-treated mice aged 12 months closely resembled those of THC-free animals aged 2 months.” Translation? Weed helped grandma think better, and this may have been due to reversing the genetic clock in the brain. Interestingly, the mice in the young group (2 months) had a much different response to the THC treatments—they experienced a mental decline, behaving similarly to the older mice prior to THC treatment. So the treatments seemed to have a reverse effect on the younger mice! The upshot? We need to get my mother and mother-in-law stoned, given that both can't remember what they had for breakfast! In the meantime, the fact that there was a reverse impact on younger mice just gives me one more thing to worry about as a parent in the Mile "High" state!

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