Just a little pot may change teen brain, study finds

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By Shamard Charles, M.D.

Low levels of marijuana use — as few as one or two times — may change the teen brain, according to a new study.

The study, which looked at the brains of 46 14-year-old girls and boys from Ireland, England, France and Germany, found that teenagers who reported using recreational marijuana just once or twice displayed increased volume on MRI images in numerous brain regions involved in emotion-related processing, learning and forming memories. The results of the study were published Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Various figures show gray matter volume differences after cannabis use in adolescents.Courtesy of the Journal of Neuroscience

“Most people would likely assume that one or two uses (joints) would have no impact, so we were curious to study this — and especially to investigate if first uses may actually produce brain changes that affect future behavior like subsequent use,” Hugh Garavan, lead author of the study and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont School of Medicine, said in an email to NBC News.

The study did not say what the increased brain matter volume means, but the researchers noted that the enlargement of gray matter contradicts normal adolescent development.

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