Archive for the ‘Neurology’ Category

The evidence is becoming more and more clear these days regarding the effects of marijuana, or cannabis, have on their users. We’ve known for decades now (since at least 1974) that cannabis can fight and even cure cancer, let alone it’s uses alleviating the symptoms of other diseases like HIV AIDS, glaucoma, alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory skin disease, and on and on and on…. On top of this, it has been disproven to be a causative factor in acquiring schizophrenia, it has also shown not to cause brain damage (it’s been shown to protect brain cell death caused by alcohol), to the contrary it has been shown to stimulate the growth of neurons (this study also found it reduced measures of anxiety and depression).

Shall we keep going? It’s been shown to be protective against the neurotoxic effects of stroke and head injury. Further evidence has also proved that cannabis is able to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, MS, Parkinson’s, and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

But more recently, and this is the crux of my post, the greater effects of marijuana on society are being studied.

Two recent studies published in the IZA Journal have found that the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes has some interesting side effects. Although an increase in adult users has been found, surely because it becomes more acceptable and more readily available, no increase is seen its use by minors. Furthermore, and this is the interesting/awesome part, US states that have legalised medicinal marijuana has been found to be linked with a significant decrease in suicides, and on top of that a significant decrease in fatal car accidents (by being a substitute for alcohol).

The abstracts from the two studies:

High on Life? Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicide

Using state-level data for the period 1990 through 2007, we estimate the effect of legalizing medical marijuana on suicide rates. Our results suggest that the passage of a medical marijuana law is associated with an almost 5 percent reduction in the total suicide rate, an 11 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 20- through 29-year-old males, and a 9 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 30- through 39-year-old males. Estimates of the relationship between legalization and female suicides are less precise and are sensitive to functional form.

Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities, and Alcohol Consumption

To date, 16 states have passed medical marijuana laws, yet very little is known about their effects. Using state-level data, we examine the relationship between medical marijuana laws and a variety of outcomes. Legalization of medical marijuana is associated with increased use of marijuana among adults, but not among minors. In addition, legalization is associated with a nearly 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely to due to its impact on alcohol consumption. Our estimates provide strong evidence that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.

This suggests that the effects of legalising cannabis could be positive in many more ways than helping its medicinal users. Who’d have thunk it? If we legalise weed it may apparently become safer on the roads, and fewer people are would commit suicide…

Of late the argument I often hear and read as to why people don’t care about marijuana legalisation one way or another is simply because they are either ignorant to its uses and effects, or they just don’t use it themselves and thus don’t care. It’s high people started looking at the evidence, politicians included, and start making laws that help people instead of deny people help, let alone their personal freedom.

I think it’s only a matter of time before the US completely legalise marijuana. However, that said, people have been saying the same thing since the 1960s. Until that happens I’m going to remain incredibly ashamed of our society staying tough on marijuana (and other drugs), and continue to deny both the sick and the recreational user access to it. Especially, if in the process people’s lives are being lost that could otherwise be saved.

Our society has plenty of issues that need our attention, and this may not be the most important one to focus on for everyone, but it is a good place to start. And good law reform and increased public awareness and education is only going to help improve our society dramatically.

I’ll throw up a few docos and some links FYI:








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This is a video of a girl who can say any word backwards within a few seconds of hearing it. It’s pretty mind blowing how the human brain can learn such interesting, though in this case pointless, tricks when practiced from a young age. This may also be a form of ambidexterity, as apparently as few as 1 in 10 million people are able to speak backwards. So it would be interesting to see if she can repeat and entire sentence backwards.

I have a cousin who I caught up with at a family party one year when he was around 12 years old and he’d learned how to solve the rubik’s cube over a period of a few days by memorising the algorithms. You could mix the rubik’s cube up without him seeing and he’d be able to solve it in front of you within seconds…

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Currently watching this documentary on Discovery, and I thought I’d share it with you. Luckily I found the whole thing up on YouTube, win!

It illustrates the effects of four illicit drugs, cannabis, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, on your body. They have a person who uses each of these substances pretty much daily to take part and do specific tasks prior to and after having used their substance of choice. The results are interesting, not to mention surprising, in a lot of the cases. What’s even more surprising is Robbin Williams hosting it and controlling his epic sense of humour. I don’t think he’s made a single joke yet… Probably not the best place to I guess haha.

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A new study carried out by British scientists has found further evidence supporting the absence of a connection between mental decline in later life from previous drug use.

I’m not too surprised to be honest… Cannabis was shown to be the most commonly used illicit drug by the 9000 participants in this study. People were surveyed at 42 years of age and then had their cognitive abilities tested 8 years later at age 50. 12 illicit drugs were included in the study comprising substances like cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, amphetamines and ecstasy.

The authors of the study state these findings and implications in the abstract that:

At the population level, it does not appear that current illicit drug use is associated with impaired cognitive functioning in early middle age. However, the authors cannot exclude the possibility that some individuals and groups, such as those with heavier or more prolonged use, could be harmed.

However, the authors cannot exclude the possibility that some individuals and groups, such as those with heavier or more prolonged use, could be harmed.

Although, aforementioned substances such as cannabis and cocaine have short term effects on ones cognitive abilities if used periodically, this study is further evidence for ones mental capacities returning to normal soon after use has stopped.

That said, it would be best to look at longer studies from earlier ages to really clarify things. As raised in one of the below comments by Ian, why would you expect to see a difference between the ages of 42 and 50. More interesting would be examining different degrees of usage of these drugs in much younger people, from their teens, through their adult life in order to examine long term effects of drug usage of cognitive abilities. Use at a younger age is probably much more detrimental to the mind, when it is still developing, than say at at 42 when it has long since matured.

More info here

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This is some seriously cool neuroscience!

The left clip is a segment of the movie that the subject viewed while in the magnet. The right clip shows the reconstruction of this movie from brain activity measured using fMRI. The reconstruction was obtained using only each subject’s brain activity and a library of 18 million seconds of random YouTube video. (In brief, the algorithm processes each of the 18 million clips through the brain model, and identifies the clips that would have produced brain activity as similar to the measured brain activity as possible. The clips used to fit the model, those used to test the model and those used to reconstruct the stimulus were entirely separate.) Brain activity was sampled every one second, and each one-second section of the viewed movie was reconstructed separately.

For a related video see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMA23JJ1M1o

For more information about this work, please check our lab web site: http://gallantlab.org

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