AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Brain damage

Potent Pot and Potential Problems

Marijuana Joint

Does smoking a little “recreational” Pot now and then really cause health problems? The answer is definitively yes.  Doctor Jodi Gilman of Massachusetts General Hospital- Harvard Center for Addiction Medicine was reviewing some brain scans were she noticed something incredibly alarming.  She found when reviewing brains of 20 pot smokers ages 18 to 25 that the nucleus accumbens of the brain of marijuana smokers were notably denser than normal. Gilman along with other researchers at Harvard University and Northwestern University conducted a study on the effects of smoking marijuana(pot) on the young adult brain.  Moderate marijuana use has been proven effect for use by adults to ease nausea and pain, however in a developing young brain, use could be detrimental.  The study took 40 young adults, non-smokers and smokers ( 7 light smokers, 9 medium smokers- light up 3-5 times per week, and 4 daily smokers) brain scans who had no sign of dependency.  These scans showed that in all smoker brains showed irregularities in the structure of the brain, specifically in the nucleus accumbens.  Similar changes were also seen the amygdala which controls memory, emotional and fear responses in the brain. Gilman concluded that these structural abnormalities indicated long term effects of THC on the brain.  Another point of interest in the influence of marijuana use on the young brain, is that the potency of pot smoked now versus pot smoked year earlier has increased.  According to samples seized by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency show that the concentration of THC, the drugs psychoactive compound, the average potency of THC has risen from 3.75 % in 1995 to 13% in 2013. Some types of marijuana products sold for recreation have been noted to have up to 70% of THC.  High-THC marijuana is associated with paranoia and psychosis according to The New England Journal of Medicine.  Nora D. Volkow stated that “We have seen very,very significant increases in emergency room admissions..It can be explained by the fact that current marijuana has a higher potency.”  Alan J Budney, a researcher and professor at Dartmouth Medical School explained that the higher the potency the more addictive marijuana becomes. A study released in 2012 showed that teenages who were found to be dependant on pot before age 18 and who continued using it into adulthood lost an average of 8 I.Q. points by age 38.  These are some serious facts to consider next time you are at a party and marijuana is present. Lighting up a few times just for the fun of it might wreak havoc on your brain in years to come.

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Link to Article

Marijuana Drug Abuse

NYT- Increase of Pot Use in Teenagers


Magnetizing the Game of Football

As more and more concussions have plagued Football, from the high-school level to that of the NFL, it is known that change must occur, and fast. Along with creating temporary memory loss, concussions have created long-term health problems for football players that hurt them for the rest of their lives. This article highlights the innovative invention of magnetized football helmets that repel each other to decrease the impact into the helmet.

Up until now, the only real idea with respect to reducing the amount of concussions has been to “disperse the impact energy after the impact’s already occurred.” Neuroscientist Raymond Colello believes that magnets would lower the impact before the collisions occur, thus reducing the amount of concussions in football.

The Brain

Although the magnets haven’t been tested in football helmets yet, there have been several experiments verifying the magnets’ effectiveness. The article talks about how, with players running up to 20 mph on the field, players can receive impact forces of up to 150 g’s; this is terrifying because concussions occur at an impact of 100 g’s. Colello argues that the only way to lower the 100,000 people who receive concussions playing football every year is to put magnets in their helmets.

Using very powerful magnets made in China that weigh about .3 lbs, Colello measured that two magnets beside each other repel each other with about 100 pounds of force. After testing the magnets by attaching them to weights and dropping them from 48 inches, he recored that dropping a helmet and it hitting a stationary object would create 120 g’s of force. With these magnets in the helmets, the impact force would be under 100 g’s, which is enough of a difference to stop a concussion from occurring.

Of course Colello recognizes that there are different levels of football with different amounts of contact. The powerful magnets cost about $50 to $100, but for younger players, Colello recommends less powerful, cheaper magnets that will still help in preventing concussions. He is anxiously awaiting customized magnets that will fit into helmets and allow him to begin testing the magnets with dummy’s, and then eventually real people!

I am completely in support of changes in the technology of football helmets! Concussions have become more and more common as football players have become stronger, and concussions have also proven to be detrimental to the health of many athletes. Articles such as these are very exciting, and I expect big improvements in preventing concussions in years to come. What is your take on putting magnets in football helmets?

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The Brain after Combat

The fact that many soldiers suffer from brain damage after combat is no new discovery. One difficult soldiers experience  is  with tasks requiring memory or attention.This is a potentially devastating side effect of serving your country. Because of the weight of this debilitating deficit, scientists continue to research the effect military combat can have on the brain. A study that began by testing the way the brains of “healthy Dutch soldiers” respond to stress in normal life led to important discoveries about the way the brain responds to stress after combat.

This is an American soldier in combat who is subject to the “adverse stress reactions explored in this article.

The areas of the brain that suffer notable damage are the mid-brain and the prefrontal cortex. As before mentioned, these parts of the brain are associated with memory and attention. Soldiers were tested on their memory and attention skills before combat and then again after returning from combat. There were significant differences in the two studies, with alarmingly lower scores in the second round of testing. There is lower activity in the mid-brain and the prefrontal cortex and also a weaker connection between the mid-brain and prefrontal cortex. However, scientists determined that in most cases the brain can heal and return to normal functioning levels after a year and a half.

This was an exciting discovery because it gives hope to any soldiers suffering from the “adverse effects of stress”. This is also an important discovery because it leads to the suggestion of longer periods of time between combat tours. It is uncertain whether or not the brain can heal after “Multiple stressful deployments in quick succession“.

I think it’s important to fully consider giving soldiers more time to recover between tours. This would hopefully prevent long-term damage to vital brain functions.

This issue and discovery are even more relevant to Americans because of the links in brain trauma due to combat and brain trauma due to football. The leaders of the NFL and of the US Army are working together to “improve awareness of traumatic brain injury and further research into its causes, prevention and treatment.” This collaborative effort is focused on prevention of traumatic brain injury by promoting early detection of concussions. If a soldier or player is aware of his or her concussions as they happen they are more likely to take time off to heal before re entering the battle field or playing field.


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