The mainstream media last year was nearly in hysterics to report structural changes to the brain due to marijuana. They were following a study conducted at Northwestern University and sponsored by the always truthy Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). A headline in the Los Angeles Times trumpeted "Regular pot smokers have shrunken brains." Similar reports ran across the media spectrum. But research released last week appears to have proved those headlines wrong.

A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience has completely debunked the Northwestern claims.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Louisville attempted to replicate the Northwestern results. They could not.

Participants in the new study included both adults and adolescents. They were given brain MRIs and split into two groups:  one set were cannabis consumers, the others were not. This time, people who use alcohol were excluded from the study.

Their findings: "No statistically significant differences were found between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest," the authors stated.

They went further in their conclusion. "In sum, the results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures."

In plain English: No brain shrink from the ganja.

Without a public relations push by the White House ONDCP, the more comprehensive Boulder-Louisville study isn't getting the same press play.

This is just like the story about marijuana lowering IQ by 8 points that also proved to be completely false.

Dr. Jahan Marcu PhD, a cannabinoid scientist who has been helping with Pennsylvania's medical marijuana legislation, discussed the IQ report in a recent article for Freedom Leaf magazine.

"Whenever anyone mentions 'a loss of 8 IQ points' remember that the authors 2012 study showed no dose-dependency for Cannabis use and did not control for the subjects' binge drinking alcohol," wrote Marcu.

"All their effects are explained with socio-economic factors, and no neuroimaging, neurochemical, or anatomical correlates where presented. If you are afraid of losing 8 IQ points be sure to avoid participating in the national pastime involving sitting in the sun, drinking liquor, and eating nitrate-cured pig parts."

Marcu pointed to a more recent study to put the issue to bed. The authors of the larger study found a much more common and fully legal recreational intoxicant is to blame for issues involving IQ.

Researchers at the University College of London drive that point home. "In particular alcohol use was found to be strongly associated with IQ decline. No other factors were found to be predictive of IQ change."

Overall, marijuana is well studied to have positive effects on the brain. Cannabinoids, even inhaled marijuana, can help with neuropathic pain and even mitigate brain injuries.

For healthy, recreational consumers marijuana is, definitively, a much safer alternative to alcohol.

Although there are no studies yet on the impact of binge watching an entire season of SpongeBob Squarepants folks like President Obama and Carl Sagan ( just to name two) have proved that smoking weed can be enjoyed during a successful journey through life by smart people. 
So why is the press so quick to highlight negative reports and bad data about marijuana? Good question.

Although there are no studies yet on the impact of binge watching an entire season of SpongeBob Squarepants, folks like President Obama and the late Carl Sagan ( just to name a couple) are around to prove that smoking weed can be enjoyed during a successful journey through life by smart people.

So why is the press so quick to highlight negative reports and bad data about marijuana?

Good question.

Chris Goldstein is associate editor of Freedom Leaf magazine and co-chair of PhillyNorml. Contact him at chris@freedomisgreen.com.