The stereotype of the lazy stoner might have some validity, thanks to new marijuana research.
Researchers in the UK at Imperial College London, UCL, and King’s College London found that dopamine production in the striatum region of the brain was lower in pot smokers and those who started using at a younger age.
Unfortunately, the study used a very small sample group to conduct the research, which does not help represent the entire population. The study used only 19 marijuana users and 19 non-users in the study. Further, each of the 19 users reported experiencing psychotic symptoms from smoking weed, which can also impact the veracity of the findings.
However, high dopamine production has been linked with psychosis in the past, which originally lead researchers to think that higher levels of dopamine would be present.
This, of course, begs the question as to whether or not excessive dopamine production that occurs naturally might be treated with marijuana in some form in the future.
The marijuana users in the group reported their first time using to be between the ages of 12 and 18, with lower levels of dopamine in the users who started at earlier ages, as well as those who smoke more.
One of the other implications of the study is that it might serve as a benchmark for establishing marijuana addiction or abuse.
Dr. Bloomfield, who was one of the leading researchers on the project, believes that this difference in dopamine could tie marijuana use to higher risks of psychotic mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.
The finding correlates to other studies on addiction, which have shown cocaine and amphetamines (for example), have a lasting effect on the dopamine system.
Although this could be a major step towards quantifying and qualifying addiction, as mentioned earlier, the small sample pool is hardly representative of the entire population. Some researchers are also debating whether or not the experiment can be replicated with similar results.
How this affects marijuana users who did not experience psychotic symptoms is also a mystery. Is it the marijuana that causes lower dopamine, and thus psychotic symptoms and lack of motivation, or is it an underlying dual diagnosis which is then triggered through the marijuana use? If a user is not experiencing psychotic symptoms, will they still suffer from a lack of motivation like those who do have those experiences?
On the other hand, the stereotype as endured for decades, and it is interesting to note that there might be a neurochemical basis for it that, until now, had always been assumed, but not verified.
Those of us in addiction treatment are no stranger to the many different ways that marijuana and other drugs affect addicts and alcoholics. It is no surprise marijuana can cause psychotic symptoms, decreased motivation, or any of the other myriad effects the drug has on the body.
What is your take on the findings? Does more research need to be done? Should the experiment be expanded? Let us know in the comments section below!