This latest study, co-authored by Kent Hutchinson of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University, looked at the effects of cannabis use on the brain specifically, and some surprising results were uncovered.
"With alcohol, we've known it's bad for the brain for decades," said Hutchison. "But for cannabis, we know so little."
The researchers used brain imaging data to analyse the effects of smoking pot on the white and grey matter on the brain in 853 adults. Grey matter is the tissue that houses the nerve cell bodies in the brain, whilst white matter exists deeper in the brain and is responsible for transmitting electrical signals. Any reduction in either matter results in impaired brain functioning, and the scientists wanted to compare these effects with the more socially acceptable alcohol.
Study results showed that while alcohol had a profound damaging effect on both white and grey matter, marijuana had no visible effect on either matter in any of the participants.
"While marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol,” summarised Hutchinson.
Whilst the results from this study didn’t show any harmful effects of marijuana use on the brain, no health benefits were identified in this case either. While further research needs to be completed, cannabis-derived hemp has recently been legalised in Australia, and does have some proven health benefits as part of a healthy diet.