Sunday, October 16, 2005

Marijuana may spur new brain cells

Marijuana may spur new brain cells: "Scientists said Thursday that marijuana appears to promote the development of new brain cells in rats and have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects, a finding that could have an impact on the national debate over medical uses of the drug.

Other illegal and legal drugs, including opiates, alcohol, nicotine and cocaine, have been shown to suppress the formation of new brain cells when used chronically, but marijuana's effect on that process was uncertain.

Now, a team led by Xia Zhang of the department of psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon may have found evidence the drug spurs new brain cells to form in a region of the brain called the hippocampus, and this in turn reduces anxiety and depression.

Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told UPI he thought the findings "would have a positive impact on moving forward this debate, because it is giving ... a scientific explanation that further supports long-observed anecdotal evidence, and further lends itself to the notion that marijuana, unlike so many other prescription drugs and controlled substances, appears to have incredibly low toxicity and as a result lacks potential harm to the brain that many of these drugs have."

The DEA Web site, however, contends that "marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug that poses significant health threats to users," including cancer and impaired mental functioning.

Armentano said this is a distortion of what scientific studies actually show. Studies in animals indicate marijuana actually may protect against many forms of cancer, rather than cause the disease, he said. In addition, studies in marijuana smokers have found little evidence of cognitive deficits, and even when they do, the defects disappear if the person stops smoking for 30 days." (more)

By STEVE MITCHELL