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Editorial: Legalizing pot may mean less of your brain on drugs

One of the major arguments often heard in favor of marijuana decriminalization and legalization is that the only thing smoking weed threatens is a bag of Doritos.

Now a groundbreaking study that originated at the Mind Research Network on the campus of the University of New Mexico shows regularly getting high causes more damage than late-night munchies on a waistline.

In the study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Vince Calhoun, a distinguished research professor of electrical and computer engineering at UNM, used three MRI techniques over several years to monitor a group of “chronic” pot smokers and compare them to a control group. Working closely with the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas – including Dr. Francesca Filbey, director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research in Addictive Disorders and a former Mind Research Network colleague – he found that smoking marijuana at least three times a day over an extended period of time measurably reduces the volume of gray matter in a part of the brain associated with decision making and addiction.

And while researchers also found an increase in a function called brain connectivity – crucial to processing information – that leveled off after six to eight years and could be the brain trying to make up for the negative affects of THC (the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana) on the gray matter in the front of the brain.

Meanwhile:

  • New Mexico still does not have a drugged driving law to keep the roads safe seven years after lawmakers legalized medical marijuana.
  • Pot is still illegal under federal law, as medical users who are stopped at border checkpoints have found.
  • No on has come up with an official solution for how legalized pot works for employees in drug-free companies.
  • A five-year study in France and the Journal of the American Heart Association both warn that marijuana could lead to strokes and heart attacks, even among young users.
  • Colorado’s legalization has led to reports of new users of edible marijuana treats threatening suicide and being arrested for homicide.

And now Calhoun’s scientific research – which is not the easily dismissed claim of a group with an agenda – shows reduced gray matter with chronic use.

All should give serious pause – which happens in that frontal lobe – to politicians who want to take Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and New Mexico one toke over the line to decriminalization and legalization.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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