Study: Alcohol Use, But Not Cannabis, Associated With Changes In Brain Structure

marijuana_seedlingAlcohol consumption is associated with negative changes in gray matter volume and in white matter integrity, while cannabis use is not, according to data published online ahead of print in the journal Addiction.

Investigators from the University of Colorado, Boulder and the Oregon Health & Science University evaluated neuroimaging data among adults (ages 18 to 55) and adolescents (ages 14 to 18). Authors identified an association between alcohol use and negative changes in brain structure, but identified no such association with cannabis.

“Alcohol use severity is associated with widespread lower gray matter volume and white matter integrity in adults, and with lower gray matter volume in adolescents,” they concluded. By contrast, “No associations were observed between structural measures and past 30-day cannabis use in adults or adolescents.”

Researchers acknowledged that their findings were similar to those of prior studies “suggesting that regionally specific differences between cannabis users and non-users are often inconsistent across studies and that some of the observed associations may actually be related to comorbid alcohol use.”

A 2015 brain imaging study published in The Journal of Neuroscience similarly reported that cannabis use was not positively associated with adverse changes in the brain, but that alcohol “has been unequivocally associated with deleterious effects on brain morphology and cognition in both adults and adolescents.”

Longitudinal data published in June in the British Medical Journal reported, “Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with adverse brain outcomes including hippocampal atrophy.”

An abstract of the study, “Structural Neuroimaging Correlates of Alcohol and Cannabis Use in Adolescents and Adults,” appears online here.

13 thoughts

  1. I quit using alcohol since it became obvious to me that it was negatively affecting my health in many ways.

    I cannot say the same about cannabis. I am 100% convinced that I am healthier because of it! As of 3 years ago I vaporize (Herbalizer) and have no desire to go back to smoking.

  2. Booze. I’ve had more than my share! It’s a miracle my mind works at all, after the pickling I’ve put it through, back in the day… But I’m hedging my bets with medical marijuana now.

    There have been other, additional studies highlighted on this blog, that show cannabis to be a neuro-protectant against alcohol abuse.

    I have often wondered if it might have been the cannabis I used for hangovers, when I was drinking heavily in the seventies and eighties, that has allowed me to have any functioning brain cells left, after quitting drinking for good in 1991.

    Now I am fully sober, mostly sane, and very well medicated. Mind, body, and spirit, all healing nicely.

    Here’s to cannabis! Here’s to your health, and mine!

  3. Cannabis expands the mind and has the acute understanding the complexity of reality while alcohol inhibits the mind and making the person much more bolder, fearless, and daring.

    Physically, alcohol effects the axom of the nerve cell in the brain by starving it from the much needed oxygen. This is what inhibits the brain.

  4. UK Professor, Psychiatrist and Neuropsychopharmacologist has been proving this point as well (in the UK) for years and it’s terrible how all societies just ignore the true dangers of alcohol, a pernicious recreational only, hard *drug* which is neurotoxic, cytotoxic and carcinogenic.

    Cannabis does not damage the brain, alcohol does:

  5. True testimony from the guy who suggested shotguning a beer on the last blog to make a quick beer bong…

    Marijuana moderates excessive alcohol consumption.

    Marijuana creates brain cells; Alcohol destroys them.

    Marijuana causes me to drink less in quantity: instead of chasing down a six pack of cans I’ll have 1 or 2 craft beers in a bottle… or a chilled pint glass. Suddenly, once stoned, I want to enjoy my beer and remain conscious. What a concept for a thirsty Texan?

    One reason for this is that marijuana treats many if not all of the underlying symptoms alcohol is used for; pain management, relaxation, social interaction or simple introspection over the day’s accomplishments: marijuana simply does it better and then some.

    But another collateral benefit of consuming more marijuana and less alcohol is the quality time we spend with the people we love. Marijuana is a clean, conscious high, allowing us to play with our children, have inciteful, intellectual courteous debate and contrmplate the coexistence of our species.

    By contrast; Excess of alcohol does more than kill pain; it kills us. No play time. No introspective thoughts to no real cohesive thoughts at all; meaning no healing. Worse, the liver has to work all night to detox the bloodstream from alcohol poisoning so we aren’t even getting any quality sleep, causing more cellular damage to the organs and brain. And if you didnt remember to drink any water? Hangover time. Guess what happens when we inhale marijuana before drinking alcohol? We remember to drink some water.
    The collateral benefits to American society by legalizing marijuana are astounding; to think; to play more with our children; to sleep; perchance to dream… And in that sleep of life what dreams may come once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil of pills and alcohol must give us pause…

    1. Companion theme to the flexdrawtube oneheater for 25-mg single tokes: curbs on deliberate propagandistic overdose packaging for alcoholic and hypersugared beverages! Why should anyone be allowed to sell a NONRESEALABLE 24-ounce can of 8% beer?? (“Drink it all now before it goes flat!”)
      How many folks know that excess dosage of sugarpop gets worked on by Bad Bacteria in your gut and turned into malicious higher alcohols? Big color sign on a “neighborhood” grocery door, eye-level to five-year-olds: “I Love [heart-sign] Big Gulp!”
      Write to former Mayor Bloomberg who has pushed this issue and share your best ideas with him. How about a 12-ounce upper limit on nonreseal canned drinks? How about dainty little 2-ounce airliner bottles for wine and fine beers, which you can carry in a shirtpocket and sip/swish at strategic flavor moments? Handcraft industry centers in every neighborhood where left-over sip bottles are turned into Creative Reuse toys for tots and toddlers. (Or wired together to make birdhouses.)

  6. I live where pot is illegal so I’m one who still couldn’t get it where it has been decriminalized because gangs or the no crowd still decides who gets it because they are the only ones who have it. I occasional drink and alcohol has an immediate bad affect upon your health. It is also very expensive at over twelve dollars for a small bottle of wine, five to seven dollars for cheap 40 proof alcohol. At least four dollars for a four pack of bad beer.
    But years ago I smoked pot and pot lingers in your system for weeks.
    It has that healthy kick of easy to get to sleep but it affects your thinking because you spend a lot of time in a state of altered consciousness under the influence and you compute thinking under the influence it has an affect upon your thought process and moral decisions.
    So your under the influence.

    1. I ask that you pardon my bad spelling.
      See THC puts your mind in a state of altered consciousness, your thinking under altered consciousness is that to susceptibility to suggestion and little resistance to suggestion.
      Meaning under the right condition I could convince you the government is lying to you and the moon is made of cheese.
      Under alcohol though. It’s a fighting altered state of consciousness and not a suggestive one. So being drunk. They’d want to fight over it.
      Under marijuana you submit.

      1. To the contrary TB; it was marijuana’s propensity to cause us to question authority that motivated Nixon to sign the CSAct of 1970. Well, that, and he had to get reelected and blaming drugs for our socioeconomic inequality seemed like the perfect scapegoat.

        Alcohol consumption, especially in excess, can make us angry and irritable; less informed and stubborn to learn. In an angry state of mind we become easily manipulated by propaganda, false fears and hidden agendas.
        Not so with marijuana, which compells us to relax, face our fears and reevaluate decisions for our problems from a peaceful and more empathetic perspective.

  7. Besides the fact that my wife and myself are still grieving from the recent death of our grandson, who died at his high school graduation party from alcohol poisoning, a DRUG FREE graduation party with none of that nasty marijuana, I have been ridiculed and seen many others treated like dirt by the LEGAL alcoholics that use marijuana as a shield to hide behind their deadly alcohol use. The kids are told marijuana is among the most dangerous of all drugs, but alcohol is legal so that is acceptable in our society. The ridiculous reality to marijuana prohibition in America is the fact that our Lawmakers are drinkers themselves and/or take money from the alcohol industry to keep alive the Mother of all LIES.

  8. now now, there is nothing wrong with a few drinks, here and there…
    all things, in moderation… let’s not be weed-nazis.

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