Title: Neuroanatomical alterations in people with high and low cannabis dependence
A recent article has been published revealing some volumetric alterations in specific brain regions in people who report dependence on cannabis. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed that the volume of certain regions, including the hippocampus, the cerebellum, and the caudate, in cannabis dependent users, were all reduced in size, relative to recreational cannabis users who did not use cannabis chronically. Future research will likely focus on the effects of the structural alterations on patients’ reward, stress, and addiction-relevant circuitry to examine the possible relevance of cannabis dependance on those circuits.
There are certainly possibilities that suggest this volume difference could be of concern, but there are also a great number of explanations (more than likely) whereby this is related to another variable that we have not yet fully appreciated.
Currently, cannabis use is thought to have a little-to-no risk of addiction (beyond any “normal” product of medical value, such as coffee or eyeglasses), because it does not act directly on the reward circuit. Opioids have a high risk of addiction, and therefore a concerning safety profile, in part because of the direct effect of the opioid system on the reward pathway of the central and peripheral nervous systems. While the endocannabinoid system has been observed to act directly up the reward circuit, it does so in subtle, soft ways, making it an ideal adjunct therapy for opioids to help with pain management. Current research provides inconsistent results and appropriately emphasizes a need for more testing to validate the possibility of cannabis as a recommended pain medication.
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