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In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana discuss the controversial issue of marijuana. Both sides of the issue have strong proponents who argue passionately to defend their stance, but what do the actual brain scans say? The results may surprise you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Hey, everybody. So excited for you to be with us today. We are going to talk about one of the most controversial topics that just generates a lot of smoke.
Tana Amen: Yeah, I have to be honest. I'm not that excited to talk about this topic today. Yeah, it's kind of personal.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We're going to talk about the impact of marijuana on the brain. The first time I was offered pot, I was in 10th grade, and my best friend, at least I thought it was my best friend, came with a bag that had green stuff in it. He said, "Oh, we should do this together." I'm like, "No, I'm not okay with that." For me, I just never really wanted to lose control. I'm one of the very few people my age, almost 63, that has actually never smoked pot and never done any drugs because I didn't want to lose control. Now, of course, I wouldn't do it because I wouldn't want it to damage my brain.
Tana Amen: Right. Mine's not nearly as rational as yours. Yours is a rational reaction. Mine's an emotional reaction. For me, marijuana is probably not in the same category as heroin, but they all get lumped together for me because drugs were a big part of our family history. Not my mom, thank god, but in our family it was traumatic for me. Probably the one really positive thing my uncle did in my life was create PTSD for me and anxiety around drugs, so badly that I still can't listen to '70s music. Most '70s music-
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you were a little girl in the early '70s.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you were born in 1968, at the beginning really ... Well, maybe not the beginning, but in the middle of the drug culture, the drug revolution.
Tana Amen: Sex, love, and rock 'n roll, yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Sex, love, drugs.
Tana Amen: Yes, sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Drugs and rock 'n roll. One of your first-
Tana Amen: The free love, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... memories is of your uncle being murdered in a drug deal gone wrong.
Tana Amen: Right. My uncle who was doing drugs would do any drugs. Heroin was probably his first choice, but he smoked pot a lot and he did a lot of other ... He drank. Whatever, he did all sorts of drugs. For me, that whole culture, they scared me. They literally looked like ... If there was anything that was ... Like we see all these zombie movies now, The Walking Dead. That's what they were to me. My uncle weighed probably 95 pounds, maybe 100 pounds, long, greasy hair. His girlfriend was that or worse. He OD'ed twice. Yeah, it wasn't on pot that he OD'ed, to be fair, but for me that trauma is ... They're completely all lumped together, and I can't separate them. Even '70s music kind of freaks me out.
Dr. Daniel Amen: One of the reasons we're talking about this is we just published a study here at Amen Clinics on just about a thousand people who smoke pot and then compared them to a healthy group, and every single area of the brain we looked at, 128 different areas of the brain, were significantly lower in people who were smoking pot than in the healthy group, especially the right hippocampus, which is this sea horse-shaped structure in your brain that helps short-term memories get into long-term memory. When the hippocampus is damaged, it's actually one of the first areas of the brain that dies in Alzheimer's disease. With 26 states now have legalized it, 10 of them specifically have legalized it for dementia. [We 00:04:27] just have to go-
Tana Amen: That's a joke.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We should at least talk about this.
Tana Amen: He's a lot more politically correct than I am.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, I'm actually glad it's legal because putting potheads in jail, how does that make sense?
Tana Amen: I agree with you, because you don't want to ...
Dr. Daniel Amen: We'll put them in a cage, chronically stress them-
Tana Amen: You socialize them to a negative ...
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... sleep deprive them, give them terrible food, and then let them hang out with people who do seriously bad things?
Tana Amen: And then let them out.
Dr. Daniel Amen: This is not smart. In my mind, it's not smart to say, "Well, it's innocuous," because when I started looking at scans in 1991, one of the first things I saw is that people who smoke pot had lower blood flow to their brain. Their brains had this sort of icky, toxic appearance. Now, does that mean it's bad for everyone? Interesting question. Our father-in-law died last year of pancreatic cancer.
Tana Amen: That was the only thing that would actually alleviate his pain, but he wasn't smoking and he was eating brownies and chocolate and whatever. In a situation like that, I'm all for it. That was a medical use, a truly for real medical use, not one of these like, "I'm going to find a way to get it for medical use." We have to touch on this idea that when you're smoking pot and you're involved in a culture, or it's affecting your life negatively, if you do have children or your families, you have to think about how it's impacting everybody, not just you and your brain.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When we taught the Brain Warrior's Way course, our 26-hour or 26-week course that's available for people, one of the great testimonials we got was from a young man who said, "I haven't smoked pot now in three months, and I feel so much better."
Tana Amen: We just got another one. We just got another one from a young woman who said the same thing. She didn't think she'd ever be able to not smoke pot because she thought she couldn't sleep without it. She has a very, very, very high-stress job, very high-stress. I mean, kind of crazy, so for her to be able to ... Her hours are not regular. For her to be able to do the program and send us a message saying, "Wow, I'm sleeping better than I've ever slept. Who would've known?" And she has had people comment on how vibrant she now is. There are other ways. There are other options. I know sleep and relaxing and pain are big issues, so we'll talk about that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: My experience as a psychiatrist for a long time is smoking pot can significantly decrease motivation, can decrease school performance, not for everybody, but for enough people, but also decreases anxiety and can decrease pain because it's decreasing overall activity in the brain. If you start with high activity and you feel worried and anxious and panicky, yes, it can help short-term, but it can also cause long-term problems.
We just recently scanned someone who's actually really well-known as a supporter for pot, and his brain just looked awful. I have another friend who helped me with our NFL study, and he's always sending me articles on why pot is good for the brain. When I met him up in the northwest, he's like, "You know, I've smoked it every day for the last 50 years." When I got a chance to scan him-
Tana Amen: It's like, we can tell.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... his brain looked awful. Let us not say it's innocuous.
Tana Amen: It's not going green, as you like to say.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's not going green. There's a new study out, came out the same time my study came out, from Norway, that if teenagers are smoking pot, it more than tripled their risk of becoming psychotic.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: That's a problem. That's actually a replication of another study. Pot is now a big industry in places like California where it's legal, in Colorado where recreational pot is legal, so it's a big industry, and as soon as someone like us says, "You need to be cautious," then all the haters come out. We see it whenever we do-
Tana Amen: I can handle it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... a live chat.
Tana Amen: It's okay, bring it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Our goal here on the Brain Warriors Way podcast is just to tell you the truth as we see it through the lens of people that have looked at, I just found out today, 128,000 scans on people from all over the world.
Tana Amen: Your favorite verse, "Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."
Dr. Daniel Amen: The truth shall set you free. If people are anxious, or they can't sleep, or they're in pain, when we come back, we're going to talk about alternatives to pot. Stay with us.