Alcohol consumption is more harmful for the brain than marijuana use, suggests a recent study by scientists from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder (UCB). According to the study published in the journal Addiction, there is a link between alcohol consumption and lowered volumes of brain tissue. It can cause long-term changes to the structure of the brain’s white matter and gray matter. On the other hand, use of marijuana seemingly did not have any long-term effect on the brain structure, the study found.
According to an observation made by study’s co-author Kent Hutchison, most of the previous studies, conducted to investigate this association, have come up with varied results till now. He said that there seemed to be no consistency across these studies in terms of actual brain structures. Hence, a new analysis was conducted, which is based on the existing brain imaging data. The UCB researchers observed the effects of marijuana use on the brain’s white matter and gray matter. The results were then compared with the effects of alcohol on the brain. The researchers noted a reduced size of the white or gray matter, or when their reliability was hit, brain functioning got impaired. While gray matter controls functions of the brain, it is the white matter that manages the communication between the nerves in the brain.
For the study, the researchers observed brain images of 853 adults aged 18-55 years, and 439 teenagers between 14 and 18 years. The consumption habits of alcohol and cannabis varied in all of them. The results showed that consumers of alcohol developed long-term changes to both gray and white matter in the brain of adult participants who had been drinking for several years. However, there was no significant changes in the brain structure of the adults and teens who only used marijuana. “While marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol,” said Kent Hutchison.
However, the study, led by Rachel Thayer, warned that there are still many things that researchers do not know about the effects of marijuana on the human brain. Thayer noted that further research was needed to explore the possible benefits of marijuana use.
Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in the U.S. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 136.7 million Americans aged 12 or older reported current use of alcohol, while 16.3 million were heavy alcohol users in the past month. It means almost 12 percent of current users were using alcohol heavily. Besides, more than 15 million people aged 12 or older (5.6 percent of the population) had an alcohol use disorder in 2016.
Having too much alcohol over a long period can lead to many health problems. Research shows that in addition to various physical illnesses liver cirrhosis and cancer, the negative changes it causes in the brain can lead to a range of mental health problems like anxiety, depression and even suicidal ideation in some cases.
Though alcohol addiction seems like a complex disease that erodes the body, recovery is possible with timely medical help. If you know someone grappling with alcoholism, encourage him/her seek treatment at one of the finest residential drug rehab centers. The 24/7 Recovery Helpline can help you find one of the best inpatient alcohol treatment centers in the U.S. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number (855) 441-4405 or chat online with one of our representatives to know more about evidence-based residential drug treatment programs best suited to your needs.