A recent study conducted by University of California, San Diego researchers found some teenage binge drinkers had less brain damage when they combined their drinking with marijuana use.
The study tested 42 adolescents between the ages of 16 and 19, broken into three groups: a control group, those with a history of binge drinking and those with a history of combined binge drinking and marijuana use.Half the time, those who binge drank and used marijuana as they drank had less structural brain abnormalities than those who only binge drank, according to the study. There was data, however, that contradicted this or showed no significant difference.
Steve Grant, chief of neuroscience for the National Institute of Drug Abuse, described the situation as similar to two low-performing cars where one is not necessarily worse than the other.
“The binge drinkers are like the car with four tires that have bad tread wear,” he said. “It’s not running as well as a car normally would. The combined binge drinkers and marijuana users are like the car with only two bad tires, but the alignment is off, so it runs a little wobbly.”
Grant called the study “very provocative, but not conclusive,” due to the small number of subjects tested and varied results.
“While it’s an interesting study, you have to see the limits of the study as well,” he said. “Like with a lot of things in science, you have to take it with a degree of skepticism.”
Brad Ernst, spokesman for Texas NORML, an organization in favor of marijuana law reform, said the results do not surprise him with the medical benefits of marijuana.
“I know some people get sick when they do both, but marijuana can also slow down the slippery slope of just getting progressively drunk,” Ernst said.
He said this new information could also put favorable light on legislation reform concerning marijuana.
“Alcohol is a force-fed culture [in Austin], but there are more accidents and deaths caused by alcohol than by marijuana,” he said. “Ignorant people just think if it’s legal, it’s OK. If it’s not legal, it’s not okay.”
Kevin Prince, a university health education coordinator, said there are still long-term physical effects of marijuana on chronic users.
“Everyone knows the problems alcohol causes and that it acts as a depressant on the brain,” he said. “But results on marijuana usage are mixed.”
Prince said part of the reason is that there is no set consistency with marijuana, and added with the various ways to mix and cut it, there is no clarity on its impact. Though alcohol research has had government-funded support, not as much research or funding has been invested in marijuana, he said.
By Priscilla Totiyapungprasert