Cannabis protects brain from the damages of binge drinking

By chillinwill · Aug 22, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    Marijuana may buffer the brain against the damages of binge drinking, a new study suggests.

    Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, used high-tech scans to compare microscopic changes in brain white matter in teens aged 16 to 19 who were divided into three groups: binge drinkers (boys who consume five or more drinks at one sitting, and girls who have four or more drinks); binge drinkers who also smoked marijuana; and a control group with little or no experience with either alcohol or drugs.

    As expected, the binge drinkers showed signs of white matter damage in all eight brain regions examined by the researchers. But the binge drinkers/marijuana users had less damage in seven out of the eight brain regions than the binge drinkers did. And compared to the control group, the binge drinkers/marijuana users had more white matter damage in only three regions.

    The researchers wrote that brain white matter tracts were "more coherent in adolescents who binge drink and use marijuana than in adolescents who report only binge drinking." They said it's "possible that marijuana may have some neuroprotective properties in mitigating alcohol-related oxidative stress or excitotoxic cell death."

    The study appears in the current issue of the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

    "This study suggests that not only is marijuana safer than alcohol, it may actually protect against some of the damage that booze causes," Steve Fox, director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a news release from the project.

    "It's far better for teens not to drink or smoke marijuana, but our nation's leaders send a dangerous message by defending laws that encourage the use of alcohol over marijuana," he added.

    Robert Preidt
    August 21, 2009
    HealthDay News

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  1. Nature Boy
    Very interesting find. Although the numbers are small, the results are promising. I would have thought that cannabis-using drinkers tend not to hit the bottle as hard as solo boozers anyway because alcohol can become undesirable when combined with smoking. Thanks for posting this up.
  2. Matthijs85
    Does the study say anything about this? (sorry I am feeling lazy)
  3. Jiggles
    Not sure if this is related but my pet rock says that when he smokes a lot of reefer to fall asleep after a night of binge drinking, he feels that it mitigates the hangover the next morning. He wakes up feeling able to get up and go, as opposed waking up feeling groggy and overall shitty when he doesn't smoke before bed.

    I really hope that more studies like this are done, if only marijuana would be placed in schedule 2 in the U.S. where it could have the opportunity to be more thoroughly studied
  4. dadrone
    SWIM barely drank until the law forced him to abandon cannabis.
  5. shhpongebob

    well, you know how you get headaches when you box or hit your head? maybe the hangover is in part just your brain hurting from being damaged, so if weed lessened the pain, maybe its because it keeps your brain more intact? makes some sense.

    would weed protect your head at all while boxing or so? or is it a souly chemical process involving the alcohol???

    this is a wonderful article, thank you. (though i hope it does not send the message at all to incurage weed smokers to drink or anything like that)
  6. EscapeDummy

    While that would be cool, it's most likely not the case. Boxing/hitting your head 'headaches' are different than hangover headaches, which are different from migranes, etc. Alcohol headache doesn't result from brain damage/cell death (although alcohol DOES do this), it is thought to result from dehydration (and perhaps certain ethanol metabolites). Weed is also an analgesic, which explains why people feel better when smoking if they have a hangover, but it's separate from the neuroprotective aspects this article is referring to.

    At least, that's as far as I know.
  7. chillinwill
    This Is Your Brain On Drugs - Not So Bad After All?

    New Study Explores Possible Benefits Of Marijuana For Binge Drinkers

    A controversial new study found that smoking marijuana may improve brain functions.

    Before you down that fifth shot of Jagermeister, you might want to fire up a joint. Research shows that compared with alcohol, marijuana causes less brain damage.

    In a study completed at the University of California, San Diego, the results of which were published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Neurotoxicology and Teratology," researchers examined the white brain matter of 42 teenage participants. The participants were placed into three groups: those classified as binge drinkers ( defined in this case as males who consume five or more drinks in one sitting and females who consume four or more ), binge drinkers who also smoked marijuana "regularly" and a control group of those who neither drank nor smoked.

    The binge drinkers displayed lower fractional anisotropy ( FA ) scores * indicating white brain matter damage * in all eight sections of the brain than the control groups, whereas the second group ( those who also smoked marijuana ) had lower FA scores than the control in only three sections. Additionally, in a finding the researchers termed "surprising," the second group had higher FA scores than the first in seven of the brain sections.

    So, how are the experts reacting to these findings? Mason Tvert, co-author of "Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?" and executive director of the marijuana legalization advocacy group Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, sees validation in the results.

    I find it ironic that marijuana can actually protect you from alcohol," he said. "It's just one more way in which marijuana is safer than alcohol, and I hope this dispels the myth that marijuana kills brain cells when it's actually protecting brain cells from damage. Marijuana gives a temporary euphoric effect, whereas binge drinking causes long-term permanent damage."

    Tvert's message is apparently reaching the masses: "Marijuana is Safer" climbed as high as No. 14 on's bestseller list following the publication of the UC San Diego study.

    In a press release, Tvert's "Marijuana is Safer" co-author, Steve Fox ( LA '90 ), who is also the director of state campaigns for the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, defended his belief that the use of marijuana is less harmful than that of alcohol.

    This study suggests that not only is marijuana safer than alcohol, it may actually protect against some of the damage that booze causes," Fox's press release read. "It's far better for teens not to drink or smoke marijuana, but our nation's leaders sent a dangerous message by defending laws that encourage the use of alcohol over marijuana."

    However, the study doesn't quite live up to press reports heralding the findings as a definitive sign of marijuana's benefits, according to Dr. Klaus Miczek, director of the Behavioral Core of the Neuroscience Research Center at the Tufts' Sackler School of Biomedical Studies. Miczek isn't convinced of any causal link between marijuana usage and a lesser degree of binge drinking-induced brain damage.

    The imaging study represents a very preliminary study that correlates imaging data with the diagnosis of binge drinking plus past marijuana use," Miczek said. "It certainly does not present a causal relationship. [The press] got carried away with this story."

    Yet the study, regardless of its preliminary nature, does shed light on an ongoing debate * one with potential implications for university policy * over the safety and potential health benefits of marijuana, particularly in the wake of the decriminalization of the substance in the state of Massachusetts last November.

    This kind of begs the question of why current college policies make marijuana an equal or more of a serious offense than alcohol, which drive people to drink, when they might otherwise make a safer choice like marijuana," Tvert said. "This study should put off an alarm in the heads of universities."

    At Tufts, the current marijuana policy considers possession of the drug as roughly equivalent to underage alcohol consumption, Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman said in an interview with the Daily last year.

    Some students, perhaps predictably, are in favor of lessening the severity of being caught with marijuana compared to alcohol.

    As of now it's kind of hazy if there haven't been any conclusive studies, but if it does have health benefits then it shouldn't be as serious a thing as drinking," freshman Krishna Soni said.

    Regardless of student opinion or the results of the recent study, Director of Alcohol and Health Education Ian Wong doesn't foresee any change in disciplinary policies regarding those found in possession of the drug, at least for now.

    Our policy is driven by federal, state and local law," Wong said. "Regardless of what the study says, we have to uphold those. We are bound by those rules."

    For Wong, the addictive nature of marijuana is more important than the legal status or potential health benefits of marijuana is its addictive nature.

    What I kind of look at more is the addictive part if it. If it really is restorative, whatever, that's one thing. But what I see in students who smoke marijuana is that they never really vandalize things or do anything destructive like students who drink, but they're failing their classes."

    Though Wong said that alcohol is more addictive than marijuana, he said that it is nonetheless a drug with potentially harmful side effects.

    What people need to understand is that these are all drugs," Wong said. "In some ways, alcohol is considered a 'good' drug, when heroin and cocaine are 'bad' drugs. I don't know why we categorize them when they all have some benefits, if you will, in some ways, and are all damaging in others, including marijuana.

    As for the issue of, 'If we let kids smoke marijuana, it's better than drinking alcohol,' we have no comment on that. Until the government says it's legal, marijuana is an illicit drug."

    Still, Wong said that the school is "more lenient than the state" when punishing marijuana possessors.

    We aren't charging kids $100 [as per the state's fine for those caught with an ounce or less of marijuana]. You get on Pro[bation] One like everyone else."

    If and when future scientific and medical testing demonstrates marijuana as beneficial and the government responds in kind, the school's administration will address the issue, according to Wong.

    It's a very interesting question. What it comes down to is good drugs, bad drugs, what people accept, what people don't accept. Times are changing. This is a timely question," Wong said.

    Derek Schlom
    September 28, 2009
    Tufts Daily
  8. rawbeer
    SWIM finds the idea that smokers tend to drink less a good one - a joint has put an abrupt end to a night of drinking for many. It also intensifies the alcohol's effects, making less more effective. The study, it seems, could have used more control for this variable - and honestly does drinking 5 beers at a time qualify as binge drinking? Maybe in an hour, but over an evening? It's frustrating how silly these types of definitions can be. By American standars, for instance, it would seem about half of all Europeans are alcoholics...but now SWIM's just ranting...
  9. EscapeDummy
    And every American college student... scientists have some serious cognitive dissonance when they talk about binge drinking for sure.
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