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Study: Marijuana Use in Early Life May Affect Brain Function, IQ

An America where marijuana is legal could be right around the corner. It's a cross-generational cause that is finally starting to have its day on the ballot.

Fast Eddy Aki'a of Hawaii smokes a joint as thousands gathered to celebrate the state's medicinal marijuana laws and collectively light up at 4:20 p.m. in Civic Center Park April 20, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. Colorado goes to the polls November 6 to vote


Many of us, as well as our parents and grandparents, have been waiting for this moment: a day when marijuana becomes legal. But if legalization of marijuana is right around the corner, we need to start asking ourselves how we want to regulate this drug.

“You have to make policy based on: does this hurt you? Does this hurt other people? And that's where harm reduction comes from,” says Maia Szalavitz, a journalist fluent in the most recent neuroscience research.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told The Washington Post in an email. "Most Americans agree that the responsible adult use of cannabis ought not to be criminalized. The battle now is finding consensus regarding the details of how best to regulate this market."

Most will argue there should be an age restriction on marijuana use, as with most recreational drugs (save coffee). However, a new study may start the conversation prior to the vote this November.

The findings indicate that early marijuana use “may have an abnormal effect not only on brain function, but also on IQ,” said Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, a scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute. The Institute further reported: "those participants who used marijuana from a young age had highly abnormal brain function in areas related to visuo-spatial processing, memory, self-referential activity and reward processing." It should be noted this study had a small number of participants, so it will take further research to prove a solid connection and causation.

In a new and interesting twist, the study found that those who began marijuana use early carried a gene that may predispose some to start marijuana use early on.

It’s too soon to say anything concrete about how early marijuana use affects our well-being. However, this pilot study does warrant a more intensive, larger study to see how policymakers should move forward, as marijuana becomes more widely legal.

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