A teenage brain on pot looks frighteningly similar to the brains of adolescents with schizophrenia, according to a new study.
While it's too early to prove a connection, researchers at North Shore University Hospital-Long Island Jewish Healthcare System caution that marijuana could be a match that ignites an underlying genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia.
Scientists have long debated whether drug abuse triggers schizophrenia, which in males usually appears in late adolescence, or whether the illness itself can lead to drug abuse.
"It is the story of nature vs. nurture," said Manzar Ashtari, an associate professor in radiology and psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a scientist at LIJ's Zucker Hillside Hospital. "If there are people who are vulnerable and smoke marijuana, they may be putting themselves at greater risk for developing severe mental illness."
Robert L. Balster, an endowed professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that while more research is needed, "studies such as this are very important in providing new leads for possible brain mechanisms that could be involved in drug abuse and its frequent association with mental illness."
The studies at Zucker Hillside were done only in males because females tend to develop schizophrenia later, in their mid-20s and beyond. Ashtari suspects the developing brain in late adolescence is at greater risk of environmental damage.