Alcohol may take a greater toll on the brain than marijuana does, especially for teens, a new study finds.
Specifically, researchers found that chronic alcohol use is linked to decreases in the brain's gray matter — which consists of brain cell bodies and synapses — in both teens and adults. In adults, alcohol use was also linked to declines in the integrity of the brain's white matter, which is made primarily of the long nerve fibers that zip messages through the nervous system. Cannabis use, on the other hand, was not associated with either gray- or white-matter declines.
"The difference between the alcohol and the cannabis is pretty dramatic," said lead study author Kent Hutchison, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder. [7 Ways Marijuana May Affect the Brain]
The study was published in the December issue of the journal Addiction.
The research shouldn't be taken as the be-all and end-all in the great debate over whether cannabis is bad for the brain. For one thing, the study looked only at marijuana use in the past 30 days, and the participants had fairly low levels of pot consumption. In addition, Hutchison told Live Science, there could be subtle brain changes that the study's measurements could not capture.
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