Hidden Dangers of Skunk Cannabis

In a new study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, researchers from King’s College in London have found damaging long-term effects of some strains of cannabis, combating a rising belief that the drug is relatively harmless. Here’s what you need to know about the study’s top conclusions and what it means for users of marijuana.

Cannabis potency is linked to inducing a psychotic episode. Using MRI technology, the team studied the brains of nearly a hundred people, over half of which reported having at least one psychotic episode in the past. Their research specifically focused on white matter, which is brain tissue that connects various parts of the brain. Their findings pointed towards significantly more damage of white matter connective tissue in the people who had regularly used high-potency strains of marijuana, and the damage in those users was even stronger than those who had only used the drug occasionally, or less strong versions of cannabis.

Skunk weed is the biggest culprit. This strain has been popularized in the past few decades and is found grown around the world. With a higher THC concentration, it is designed specifically with the molecule that increases the risk of psychotic disorders among users. It is growing in a widespread domain as well as potency; in the United Kingdom alone, research has shown that virtually all of the marijuana sold is some version of this skunk cannabis. Finding a different type, especially one of a lower potency, is extremely difficult even for someone who is choosing not to use the dangerous ‘skunk’ strain.

The damage is long lasting. The corpus callosum, a band of white matter fibers connecting the left and right hemispheres in the brain is at particular risk because of its’ high number of cannabinoid receptors that are particularly vulnerable to THC. White matter is made up of axiom nerve cell bundles and is used to communicate across the regions of the brain.  Without out this vital nerve tissue, much of normal human activity would be severely limited.

Dr. Paola Dazzan, a senior researcher, calls education about the dangers ‘urgent’.  Dr. Dazzan stated that the damage they found in users happens on a “sliding scale” of increased use and increased risk for psychotic breaks. Even for users without psychosis, she reported that “frequent use of high potency cannabis significantly affects the structure of white matter fibers in the brain.” She ended her statement by declaring a need for education about the risks to “health professionals, the public, and policymakers.”

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