(CNN) — Using marijuana at an early age could have long-term consequences on your brain and it may even lower your IQ, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers found that compared to nonusers, people who smoked marijuana starting as early as age 14 have less brain volume, or gray matter, in the orbitofrontal cortex. That’s the area in front of your brain that helps you make decisions.
“The younger the individual started using, the more pronounced the changes,” said Dr. Francesca Filbey, the study’s principal investigator and associate professor at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Adolescence is when the brain starts maturing and making itself more adult-like, so any exposure to toxic substances can set the course for how your brain ends up.”
Researchers also found increased brain connectivity in chronic users. Connectivity, when different parts of the brain connect to each other, is important for adaptive learning abilities. It also helps your mind make associations. This wiring of the brain starts to deteriorate with chronic marijuana use.
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“Too much or too little of anything isn’t good. There needs to be an equal balance,” said Filbey.
There were 48 marijuana users enrolled in this study. All started smoking between ages 14 and 30. The average age of the person enrolled in the study was 18. On average they used marijuana three times a day. Most said they had been using it for 10 years, although some had been smoking pot for three decades.
Scientists compared this group to a group of 62 nonusers of the same basic age and gender. All gave urine samples. All had an MRI scan and all went through IQ testing.
Filbey said the people who regularly used marijuana had IQs that were five points lower, on average, than the nonusers in the study, although there is no definitive proof that marijuana alone was to blame for the lower IQ.
“While our study does not conclusively address whether any or all of the brain changes are a direct consequence of marijuana use, these effects do suggest that these changes are related to the age of onset and duration of use,” Filbey said.