Marijuana Study at Indiana University

Though marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the country, little is definitively known about its impact on the brain.

A study taking place at Indiana University in Bloomington is designed to help change that.

Clinical psychologist Brian O’Donnell and colleagueSharlene Newman are recruiting current and former marijuana users to participate in a study in which their brains will be analyzed for changes in structure and function.

“From animal studies, there’s reason to believe it (marijuana use) will affect parts of the brain and also the connections between them, and some of our preliminary studies suggest that is the case,” said O’Donnell, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

The study — funded by a $275,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health — is taking place as marijuana is gaining more acceptance in some parts of the country. For example, marijuana has been legalized for adult use in places such as Colorado, Washington state, Alaska and Oregon, and many states now have medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It’s being decriminalized, but without knowledge of really its long-term effects on brain structure or function,” O’Donnell said. People who choose to use marijuana need to know “what aspects of physical or mental function it might affect.”

He said people who choose to use marijuana need to know “what aspects of physical or mental function it might affect.”

Recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in Indiana.

Study participants will undergo a series of brain scans so the Bloomington-based research team can zero in on changes in their brains.

They’ll be analyzing brain-scan images for evidence that could show how marijuana may change the brain’s structure and functions.

O’Donnell, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, said animal studies and preliminary human findings suggests marijuana use can affect parts of the human brain and also the connections between them.

The IU researchers will use magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, techniques to conduct the study on 90 people ages 18-35.

Along with current and past users of marijuana, the study will include people who have never used pot.
“We’re comparing the subjects in the different groups. … The group that’s never used marijuana is our baseline group,” said Newman, an associate professor and the director of IU’s Brain Imaging Facility.

The users will go through drug screening to verify that they aren’t taking other drugs so the study can focus only on the impact of marijuana on the brain, she said.

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