Marijuana use could increase Alzheimer’s disease risk

By Doug Bennett • Published: February 2nd, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Before you consider getting high on marijuana, here’s a reason to think twice: Pot use may make your brain more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease.

New research shows that using the drug substantially reduces blood flow in an area of the brain that is affected by the disease. The researchers found that marijuana use cut blood flow to all parts of the brain, but that it particularly affected the hippocampus. That’s the part of the brain that drives memory and learning, and is the first region affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, led by university and clinical researchers in California, was published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Reduced blood flow to the brain cuts the amount of oxygen available to cells, but researchers wanted to know if marijuana use factored into that. They used a nuclear medicine imaging technique to measure brain activity and blood flow in nearly 1,000 marijuana users and about 100 non-users. The participants were evaluated at rest and while they performed a mental concentration test.

Among marijuana users, the blood flow to the right hippocampus was especially low as they tried to perform the concentration task. While prior studies have suggested that marijuana can damage the brain, the researchers said they were surprised by how much blood flow dropped among pot users.

Why does blood flow matter in terms of Alzheimer’s disease risk? Other studies have associated reduced blood flow in the hippocampus with the disease. The researchers note that their findings show marijuana can be harmful to parts of the brain that are crucial to memory and learning.

So for your brain’s sake, it’s OK to just say “no.”