Long-Term Pot Use Can Alter Your Brain's Circuitry, Study Finds

Chronic use can alter your reward centers.

After years of recreational marijuana use, you might experience changes in the pathway of your brain -- also known as the reward system of your brain, a new study says.

Simply put, researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas Center For Brain Health found that -- over time -- the drug can disrupt your brain.

A small study of 59 adult long-term marijuana users and 70 non-users had participants self-report their urges to use the drug after being shown various photos. The photos included things like pot paraphernalia, including bongs, joints and pipes, along with what researchers considered "natural rewards," such as pieces of fruit, including apples, oranges, and bananas. 

The marijuana users had on average been consistently using the drug for around 12 years. 

In the non-user group, researchers saw greater activity in the brain's reward centers using magnetic resonance imaging when they were shown pieces of fruit. In the marijuana user group, however, they found more activity across their brains' reward centers when shown pot-related photos compared with those of fruit. 

"This study shows that marijuana disrupts the natural reward circuitry of the brain, making marijuana highly salient to those who use it heavily. In essence, these brain alterations could be a marker of transition from recreational marijuana use to problematic use,” one of the study's authors, Francesca Filbey, said in a statement.

Recent data shows that marijuana use had increased in post 50s in the last decade. 

While it's sometimes used medically for patients wishing to reduce symptoms of nausea and pain, other research has indicated the detrimental effects of long-term use. Use of the drug over a long period has been shown -- in some studies -- to reduce verbal memory and even the brain's processing speed. 

Researchers say the new study findings could explain why some chronic marijuana users experience problems in their personal lives. 

"We found that this disruption of the reward system correlates with the number of problems, such as family issues, individuals have because of their marijuana use," Filbey said. "Continued marijuana use despite these problems is an indicator of marijuana dependence."



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