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When it comes to marijuana, the potential long-term health effects of smoking it are just now starting to be uncovered.
Because it’s classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), researching marijuana is difficult.

Thus far, most information about the drug is positive, referencing the endless medicinal benefits that it provides, but what about the potential downsides of this drug?

Smoking marijuana consistently and excessively may be doing more damage than good, one study has found.

The study, conducted by researchers out of Columbia University, found that people who use marijuana “heavily,” have decreased levels of dopamine in the striatum region of the brain, and that their dopamine systems have been altered.

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is produced as a response to certain pleasures, like having sex or eating sugary snacks. The striatum is a part of the brain that has ties to memory, impulse behaviors, and one’s attention.

When dopamine levels are decreased, resulting in a deficit in the striatum, it’s been seen to result in poor cognitive functionality (or a decreased ability to think and use your brain). Dopamine levels get reduced when the brain comes to rely on drug consumption for the dopamine production, much like is the case with addictions to cocaine and heroin.

Researcher Anissa Abi-Dargham used Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to analyze dopamine levels in the striatums of 11 marijuana-dependent people after they’d smoked marijuana. Compared to a control group, they exhibited decreased levels of dopamine as well as reduced scores in cognitive functionality.

It should be noted that they could not establish a direct, causal relationship between marijuana use and a dopamine deficit, because there was no way to tell if it was a pre-existing condition or the result of sustained marijuana consumption.

This study suggests that marijuana likely influences the brain in ways that we’ve yet to fully understand, and makes a good case for consuming the substance in moderation, just as you would anything else in life.

Until further research of the drug can confirm that long-term use posits minimal health risks, it might be best to stay sober.

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