OCT 18, 2018 3:01 PM PDT

This is Your Brain on Weed

WRITTEN BY: Amy Loriaux

Here is a first: a neuroscience experiment on the effects of marijuana smoking on the brain in human participants, on national televisionDr. Lucy Troup, a cognitive neuroscientist from the Department of Psychology at the University of Colorado - Fort Collins, is interested in the effect of marijuana on various measures of brain activity in humans. Brainwaves, eye movements, cognitive ability were all measured by four subjects who smoked marijuana. Studies like this have been performed before, but the interesting part of this story is the fact that it was actually filmed and broadcasted.

Photo source: Pixabay.com

"Understanding the role that cannabis has to play both medically and recreationally is complex," Dr. Troup explains. So to get a better understanding, Troup and a team of TV producers from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), placed EEG electrodes and eye-tracking glasses onto four participants who smoked pot until they were high. Cognitive tests, such as basic math problems, were administered. Emotional reactions were also monitored, and one participant had to leave the studio because she started to have anxiety symptoms.

This actually is becoming a more and more common occurrence, as the percentage of THC in today's strains are much higher than they were in the seventies. For example, the strain the participants opted for (Durban Poison) has around 24% THC, up to five times the amount baby boomers were smoking when they were young. This increase in THC percentage is thought to be behind the rise in hospital admissions. Toxicologist and ER doctor Dr. Kennon Heard states that legal cannabis use has increased the number of patients coming in with complaints of abdominal pain, vomiting, and nausea. He also mentions evidence that suggests that marijuana use can worsen mental health disorders, such as anxiety.   

Photo source: Pixabay.com

While the data on the role chronic marijuana use on mental health is fairly conclusive, this increase in the prevalence in gastrointestinal distress seems a bit complexing, considering the overwhelming evidence that particular compounds found in cannabis (particularly cannabinol) appear to alleviate these symptoms. THC, for example, is considered an antiemetic with appetite-increasing effects.   

The EEG data were analyzed by Dr. Steven Laviolette of the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University in Canada. According to Laviolette, the brain patterns of all four participants displayed brain activity similar to what you would see in a schizophrenia patient. So does this make marijuana smokers schizophrenic? "Not at all," says Laviolette, "schizophrenia is a long-term...chronic disease. But they can certainly experience psychotic-like symptoms for a couple of hours."

This "Reality TV" experiment has enough shock value to garner your attention. However, the results of this study add to the growing body (although still very small) of evidence to determine the ultimate question of whether marijuana is good or bad for you, or whether it lies somewhere in between. Check out the video below, and decide for yourself.     

Sources: Youtube.com, PNAS, CMAJ Open, Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety

About the Author
  • I currently work at a small CRO involved in clinical trial management.
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