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Legal Weed Will Make Lakers Fans Even More Unbearable

Imagine a not-so-distant future: You’re at a Lakers game in L.A.’s Staples Center. Everyone in the stadium is high. The team, by some miracle, is winning, yet its fans — who have been smoking legally for years now, maybe decades — aren’t satisfied. They’re bored; they even feel a little angry. Instead of getting pumped to the “defense song,” there’s a collective decision to smoke another blunt. While this may sound like a paranoid anti-marijuana PSA, science suggests it also could be a realistic look at the future.

According to a new review of cannabis research in Nature, something that researchers are seriously concerned about is the fact that marijuana — used over many years — can lower dopamine levels. This, in turn, can reduce motivation and induce negative emotions.

In a press release issued Thursday, the researchers, from Imperial College London, argue that the steady spread of marijuana legalization means that it’s more important than ever to determine the long-term effects of smoking weed. Their review highlights the “conclusive evidence” that cannabis decreases dopamine levels. What they call for now is more research to understand exactly how this happens.

This is critical to understand because of the health implications for smokers. The researchers write that heavy cannabis use is “associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders such as psychosis, addiction, depression, and suicide.”

“The changing patterns of cannabis use, including ‘cannavaping’ and edible products, means it’s vital that we understand the long-term effects of cannabis on the brain,” says co-author Michael Bloomfield, Ph.D. “This new research helps to explain how people get people addicted to cannabis, by showing that one if its main components, called THC, alters a delicate balance of brain chemicals.”

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and mimics a naturally occurring brain chemical called anandamide. A little bit of THC triggers an increase in dopamine release and neuron activity. Long-term THC exposure is, the researchers believe, what causes a blunting of the dopamine system.

Currently, THC levels in cannabis are the strongest they’ve ever been. In the 1970s, the average THC level was 8 percent. Today, different strains have THC levels anywhere between 18.7 to 30 percent. These high levels, the researchers argue, makes it even more urgent to understand cannabinoid-dopamine interactions and how they affect the mental health of smokers. In their review, they call for further animal studies on this interaction as well as studies on the brains of adolescents that consume cannabis as they mature into adulthood. There’s an understanding that long-term smoking creates this effect, but there’s little agreement on how long “long-term” really is.

“We urgently need to better understand how cannabis affects the brain, to help policy makers and individuals make informed decisions,” says psychiatrist Oliver Howes, Ph.D., who led the review. “If it turns out that it’s bad news to take cannabis then we need to know now, before people take the gamble.”

And now that weed is legal in California, it’s likely that Los Angelenos are likely to “take the gamble” pretty soon. With the probability that long-term smoking will decrease motivation and dampen mood, having a losing basketball team won’t be the only thing making Lakers fans depressed.

Legal Weed Will Make Lakers Fans Even More Unbearable Imagine a not-so-distant future: You’re at a Lakers game in L.A.’s Staples Center. Everyone in the stadium is high. The team, by some

Marijuana Science: Why Pot Heads Are Slackers

By Denise Chow 01 July 2013

The stereotype of pot smokers as lackadaisical loafers is supported by new research: People who smoke marijuana regularly over long periods of time tend to produce less of a chemical in the brain that is linked to motivation, a new study finds.

Researchers in the United Kingdom scanned the brains of 19 regular marijuana users, and 19 nonusers of the same sex and age, using positron emission tomography (PET), which helps measure the distribution of chemicals throughout the brain.

They found that the long-term cannabis users tended to produce less dopamine, a “feel good” chemical in the brain that plays an important role in motivation and reward-driven behavior. [Trippy Tales: The History of 8 Hallucinogens]

Study participants who smoked marijuana regularly, and those who began using the drug at a younger age, had lower levels of dopamine in a part of the brain called the striatum, which could be why cannabis users appear to lack motivation.

However, “whether such a syndrome exists is controversial,” said study lead author Michael Bloomfield, a researcher at the Institute of Clinical Sciences at Imperial College London.

The people in the study used cannabis quite heavily, they all began using the drug between ages 12 and 18, and they all had experienced symptoms of psychosis while under the influence, the researchers said. Some of these symptoms include experiencing strange sensations while on the drug, or having bizarre thoughts, such as thinking they were being threatened by an unknown force.

Because increased dopamine production has been linked with psychosis, the researchers expected to find higher levels of dopamine in the cannabis users, but instead, their findings suggested the opposite.

Previous studies looking at marijuana’s effects on the brain have shown that chronic marijuana use may trigger inflammation in the brain, which could affect coordination and learning, and that cannabis users have a higher risk of schizophrenia.

But the new results suggest more research is needed to understand the potential links between chronic marijuana use and mental illnesses.

“It has been assumed that cannabis increases the risk of schizophrenia by inducing the same effects on the dopamine system that we see in schizophrenia, but this hasn’t been studied in active cannabis users until now,” Bloomfield said in a statement. The results tie in with previous addiction research showing that substance abusers have altered dopamine systems.

The findings could explain behaviors commonly seen in marijuana users, not only those who may suffer psychosis symptoms or dependence, although further study is needed to better understand the link, the researchers said.

They also said the brain changes are likely reversible — previous studies did not find differences in dopamine production between former marijuana users and people who were never regular users of marijuana.

The detailed results of the study were published online June 29 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Long-term marijuana users tend to produce less dopamine in the brain, which could explain why cannabis users lack motivation.