A study just published online by the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology suggests that marijuana may protect the brain from some of the damage caused by binge drinking.
The study, by researchers at the University of California San Diego, used a type of high-tech scan called diffusion tensor imaging to compare microscopic changes in brain white matter. The subjects were students aged 16-to-19, divided into three groups: binge drinkers (defined as having five or more drinks at one sitting for boys or four or more for girls), binge drinkers who also smoked marijuana, and a control group who had very little or no experience with either alcohol or drugs.
As expected, the binge-drinking-only group showed evidence of white matter damage in eight regions examined, as demonstrated by lower fractional anisotropy (FA) scores. But in a finding the researchers described as “unexpected,” the binge-drinking/marijuana group had lower FA scores than the controls in only three of the eight regions, and in seven regions the binge-drinking/marijuana group had higher scores – indicating less damage – than the binge drinkers who didn’t use marijuana (unfortunately, not all of these stats are in the summary linked above; access to the full article requires payment).
Brain white matter tracts were “more coherent in adolescents who binge drink and use marijuana than in adolescents who report only binge drinking,” the researchers wrote. “It is possible that marijuana may have some neuroprotective properties in mitigating alcohol-related oxidative stress or excitotoxic cell death.” The scientists noted that such protection has already been shown in lab and animal studies.
Indeed, the U.S. government has a patent on cannabinoids as neuroprotectants. Yes, the same government that wants you to believe that marijuana will rot your brain knows that its active components protect brain and nerve cells from many kinds of damage.
In a statement issued by MPP today, director of state campaigns Steve Fox said, “This study suggests that not only is marijuana safer than alcohol, it may actually protect against some of the damage that booze causes. It’s far better for teens not to drink or smoke marijuana, but our nation’s leaders send a dangerous message by defending laws that encourage the use of alcohol over marijuana.”