Summary: A new study reports marijuana users have lower blood flow to the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory and learning.
Source: IOS Press.
Hippocampus, the brain’s key memory and learning center, has the lowest blood flow in marijuana users suggesting higher vulnerability to Alzheimer’s.
As the U.S. races to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, a new, large scale brain imaging study gives reason for caution. Published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), a sophisticated imaging study that evaluates blood flow and activity patterns, demonstrated abnormally low blood flow in virtually every area of the brain studies in nearly 1,000 marijuana compared to healthy controls, including areas known to be affected by Alzheimer’s pathology such as the hippocampus.
All datawere obtained for analysis from a large multisite database, involving 26,268 patients who came for evaluation of complex, treatment resistant issues to one of nine outpatient neuropsychiatric clinics across the United States (Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fairfield, and Brisbane, CA, Tacoma and Bellevue, WA, Reston, VA, Atlanta, GA and New York, NY) between 1995-2015. Of these, 982 current or former marijuana users had brain SPECT at rest and during a mental concentration task compared to almost 100 healhty controls. Predictive analytics with discriminant analysis was done to determine if brain SPECT regions can distinguish marijuana user brains from controls brain. Low blood flow in the hippocampus in marijuana users reliably distinguished marijuana users from controls. The right hippocampus during a concentration task was the single most predictive region in distinguishing marijuana users from their normal counterparts. Marijuana use is thought to interfere with memory formation by inhibiting activity in this part of the brain.
According to one of the co-authors on the study Elisabeth Jorandby, M.D., “As a physician who routinely sees marijuana users, what struck me was not only the global reduction in blood flow in the marijuana users brains , but that the hippocampus was the most affected region due to its role in memory and Alzheimer’s disease. Our research has proven that marijuana users have lower cerebral blood flow than non-users. Second, the most predictive region separating these two groups is low blood flow in the hippocampus on concentration brain SPECT imaging. This work suggests that marijuana use has damaging influences in the brain – particularly regions important in memory and learning and known to be affected by Alzheimer’s.”
Dr. George Perry, Editor in Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease said, “Open use of marijuana, through legalization, will reveal the wide range of marijuana’s benefits and threats to human health. This study indicates troubling effects on the hippocampus that may be the harbingers of brain damage.”
According to Daniel Amen, M.D., Founder of Amen Clinics, “Our research demonstrates that marijuana can have significant negative effects on brain function. The media has given the general impression that marijuana is a safe recreational drug, this research directly challenges that notion. In another new study just released, researchers showed that marijuana use tripled the risk of psychosis. Caution is clearly in order.”
Source: Natalie Buchoz – IOS Press
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to the researchers/IOS Press.
Original Research: Abstract for “Discriminative Properties of Hippocampal Hypoperfusion in Marijuana Users Compared to Healthy Controls: Implications for Marijuana Administration in Alzheimer’s Dementia” by Amen, Daniel G.; Darmal, Borhan; Raji, Cyrus A.; Bao, Weining; Jorandby, Lantie; Meysami, Somayeh;and Raghavendra, Cauligi S. in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. November 24 2016 doi:10.3233/JAD-160833
Discriminative Properties of Hippocampal Hypoperfusion in Marijuana Users Compared to Healthy Controls: Implications for Marijuana Administration in Alzheimer’s Dementia
Background: Few studies have evaluated the impact of marijuana use on regional cerebral blood flow.
Objective: To determine whether perfusion in specific brain regions on functional neuroimaging, including those affected by Alzheimer’s disease pathology, are abnormal in marijuana users compared to controls. Method: Persons with a diagnosis of cannabis use disorder by DSM-IV and DSM-V criteria (n = 982) were compared to controls (n = 92) with perfusion neuroimaging with SPECT at rest and at a concentration task. Perfusion estimates were quantified using a standard atlas. Cerebral perfusion differences were calculated using one-way ANOVA. Diagnostic separation was determined with discriminant analysis of all subjects. Feature selection with a minimum redundancy maximum relevancy (mRMR) identified predictive regions in a subset of marijuana users (n = 436) with reduced psychiatric co-morbidities.
Results: Marijuana users showed lower cerebral perfusion on average (p < 0.05). Discriminant analysis distinguished marijuana users from controls with correct classification of 96% and leave one out cross-validation of 92%. With concentration SPECT regions, there was correct classification of 95% with a leave-one-out cross validation of 90%. AUC analysis for concentration SPECT regions showed 95% accuracy, 90% sensitivity, and 83% specificity. The mRMR analysis showed right hippocampal hypoperfusion on concentration SPECT imaging was the most predictive in separating marijuana subjects from controls.
Conclusion: Multiple brain regions show low perfusion on SPECT in marijuana users. The most predictive region distinguishing marijuana users from healthy controls, the hippocampus, is a key target of Alzheimer’s disease pathology. This study raises the possibility of deleterious brain effects of marijuana use.
“Discriminative Properties of Hippocampal Hypoperfusion in Marijuana Users Compared to Healthy Controls: Implications for Marijuana Administration in Alzheimer’s Dementia” by Amen, Daniel G.; Darmal, Borhan; Raji, Cyrus A.; Bao, Weining; Jorandby, Lantie; Meysami, Somayeh;and Raghavendra, Cauligi S. in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. November 24 2016 doi:10.3233/JAD-160833