Quilted Science

Patchwork thoughts on psychology, neuroscience, and human behavior.

An Addicted Brain Is a Diseased, Not Flawed, Brain

Drug addiction is devastating and costly. It is not a character flaw; it is a chronic disease. Drugs physically and chemically alter the brain, sometimes permanently. The disease is heritable, but identification of relevant genes is still a work in progress. Addiction is also most likely to start during adolescence, which is when most people experiment with drugs. Read More

Wow. One article saying it

Wow. One article saying it is a disease. ANother saying it is not. Who to believe? I still do not see any proof where it is a disease since only neuroscience they can show is scans when a brain is addicted. DUH it is gonna have a different makeup when it is hooked on drugs.

Destroyed your credibility by including the marijuana study

The article was very compelling and I have found a lot of what was mentioned to be an accurate assessment of addiction as it relates to genetics and its classification as a disease rather than that of a character flaw. Up until the author included the newly release study how marijuana use affects the human brain.

Let's take a closer look at this and why that study and any other published work that includes references to that study should be viewed with a great deal of scepticism. The marijuana included a total of 40 people, yes I said 40 not 400 or 4000; with only 20 of those included being actual pot smokers age 18-25 and 20 nonsmokers had their brains measured via MRI scan.

Dig a little deeper and you will find that the tolerances used to measure the amount of weed the 20 smokers in the study consumed daily was objective at best. Tolerances did not take into account any other drugs, alcohol or substances that the control group of 20 smokers used in addition to the marijuana. As shaky as these findings may be the National Institute on Drug Abuse has jumped on this as if it were earth shaking news to be viewed as a credible assessment of marijuana's impact on the developing human brain of people under the age of 26.

Only one media outlet embraced the study and gave it any attention at all, Fox News. They devoted 24 hours of editorial comment from each of their news anchors to supporting the study. I believe that the author of this piece should back up and rethink their decision to include that study if they want their theory to have any credibility.

RE: Destroyed your credibility by including the marijuana study

Dear Fair & Balanced,

I am sorry that you think I destroyed my credibility by including the Breiter J Neuro study. I respectfully disagree with you on that point!

I wrote about that paper because only it was timely; if you read closely, you see that I did not pass judgement on the paper at all. There are no positive adjectives describing the work or the results.

I happen to agree with you. The Breiter paper is not a great one. It is nearly impossible to exclude for other substances, like alcohol, but the study certainly could have more subjects. Also, comparing and weighting the changes of kinds of substance use, not just marijuana, would be very informative.

But the study does show a physical change in the brain related to substance use, emphasizing one of the points I made in this post. Breiter's results illustrate physical changes that can happen in the brain, regardless of what you think of the study.

I rarely follow the 24/7 news channels, so I don't know what kind of coverage Fox News gave this study. But if you read the linked USA Today article (Breiter's interview), you'll see that another expert interviewed comments how marijuana is not the worst substance for the brain, in particular alcohol is well know to have far more damaging effects on the brain. From a public policy perspective, the contrast between marijuana and alcohol is certainly revealing.

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Kimberlee D’Ardenne, Ph.D. is a neuroscientist by training, science writer by choice.

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