A study recently came out analyzing the damage to the brain caused by pot smoking. Unfortunately, it came out during the week of the Triduum, and a Catholic blog like this had another focus at that time. But it’s time to circle back and have a look.
I wrote some time ago of my anecdotal observation that the pot smokers I knew all developed serious problems with motivation, and that the effects of being “high” lingered long after toking a joint and went on to become semi-permanent. It involved a glazed look, a shuffling gait, and a lethargic attitude largely exemplified by the phrase: “Hey man…I ain’t gotta do what the man says; I ain’t gotta go to the man’s class…” When some of the kids I grew up with started using pot, there was a very noticeable change in their personalities. Again, I have written more on that here: The Problem of Pot
Now comes a more scientific study from Harvard that affirms what experience has taught. Below are some pertinent excerpts (in bold) along with my brief commentary (in red). The full article is here: Harvard Study links Pot and Brain Damage
According to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from Harvard and Northwestern studied the brains of 18- to 25-year-olds, half of whom smoked pot recreationally and half of whom didn’t. What they found was rather shocking: even those who only smoked few times a week had significant brain abnormalities in the areas that control emotion and motivation.
Exactly. But I wonder why the author of the article used the word “shocking”? As I have said, and many of you have commented, getting stoned makes you groggy, unmotivated, and induces a sort of personality change. I think it would have been shocking not to find any brain abnormalities. The phenomenon of becoming unmotivated is very observable.
Note too the phrase “significant brain abnormalities.”
Similar studies have found a correlation between heavy pot use and brain abnormalities, but this is the first study that has found the same link with recreational users.
The study described “recreational users” as those who smoked pot between one and four times a week.
Using three different neuroimaging techniques, researchers then looked at…areas [of the brain] … responsible for gauging the benefit or loss of doing certain things, and providing feelings of reward for pleasurable activities such as food, sex, and social interactions. “This is a part of the brain that you absolutely never ever want to touch,” said [Hans] Breiter, co-author of the study….These are fundamental in terms of what people find pleasurable in the world and assessing that against the bad things.”
Pay attention! Pot affects judgment. The study seems to make clear that not only are pot smokers damaging their motivation, they are also affecting their ability to make sound judgments about what is good vs. bad, helpful vs. harmful.
This may go a long way to affirm another connection I have made anecdotally between drug use and the cultural revolution. How else can we describe the cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s other than as a long stream of bad decisions, poor judgment, the abandonment of common sense, and just plain stupid and foolish thinking? In other words, an awful lot of the leaders, drivers, and participants in this these revolutions were stoned and their brains were damaged.
And even today, when there is so much evidence of the social harm caused by these revolutions, many still can’t make the connections; they want more of the same; they want to drive us deeper into revolution. Are their brains damaged? I don’t know. You decide.
But the widespread lack of common sense in our culture, especially among the Baby Boomers, has a kind of surreal quality to it. It’s a little like a bad dream that you’d expect people to eventually wake up from—but many don’t. Perhaps their brains are too damaged to wake up or to think clearly. I don’t know. You decide.
Shockingly, every single person in the marijuana group, including those who only smoked once a week, had noticeable abnormalities.
OK, so at least according to this study, even “moderate” use causes harm. Studies will continue, but honestly, the data have been pretty clear to me for a long time just from my personal experience with pot smokers. It ain’t cool or pretty. They just look glazed, stoned, unmotivated, and “dulled out.” Their whole sad demeanor shouts to me: “Don’t do drugs!”
I am not going to address here the issue of how drug use should be dealt with by the legal system. I am not certain that putting users in jail is the answer. But the legalization push that is rampaging through this country is yet another example of bad judgment. Let’s slow down the train and at least adopt the same attitude toward pot that we have toward cigarettes.
Pot should barely be tolerated within fifty miles of where anyone lives. And if it is “legal” it ought to be pushed to the margins of our society with no less scorn than tobacco has recently been given. When I see a tobacco smoker I think, “How sad. How foolish…given all we now know.” There is no less reason to consider pot smokers in this same manner. They are not cool, hip, or glamorous. Smoking pot is sad and foolish behavior.
To address the “Yeah, but what about alcohol?” objection, I will make a few quick observations:
- Drunkenness is a sin.
- Would our society be better off without any alcohol? Probably. But if so, why would we want to add another substance with problematic associations to the mix?
- I am not aware of any study that says that moderate or occasional use of alcoholic beverages permanently damages the human brain. But it is clear that excessive use of alcohol has severe bodily consequences, including effects on the brain.
- The Bible, while condemning drunkenness, does not forbid the use of alcohol and even commends the proper use of wine, etc.
- The moderate use of alcohol is not in the same category as pot smoking and the two should be discussed as separate matters. The expression “Drugs and Alcohol” is an equivocation that lumps together two different realities that are separated by wide gulfs of culture, history, experience, and medical study.
When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, a lot of music “celebrated” pot. Here is one of those popular “songs.” It made a joke out of being stoned. At the end of the day though, it was just dumb.