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When Adolescents Give Up Pot, Their Cognition Quickly Improves

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Marijuana, it seems, is not a performance-enhancing drug. That is, at least, not among young people, and not when the activity is learning.

A study published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry finds that when adolescents stop using marijuana — even for just one week — their verbal learning and memory improve. The study contributes to growing evidence that marijuana use in adolescents is associated with reduced neurocognitive functioning.

More than 14 percent of students in middle school and high school reported using marijuana within the past month, finds a National Institutes of Health survey conducted in 2017. And marijuana use has increased among high-schoolers over the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

At the same time, the percentage of teens who believe that regular marijuana use poses a great risk to their health has dropped sharply since the mid-2000s. And legalization of marijuana may play a part in shaping how young people think about the drug. One study noted that after 2012, when marijuana was legalized in Washington state, the number of eighth-graders there that believed marijuana posed risks to their health dropped by 14 percent.

Researchers are particularly concerned with marijuana use among the young because THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, most sharply affects the parts of the brain that develop during adolescence.

"The adolescent brain is undergoing significant neurodevelopment well into the 20s, and the regions that are last to develop are those regions that are most populated by cannabis receptors and are also very critical to cognitive functioning," says Randi Schuster. Schuster is the director of neuropsychology at Massachusetts General Hospital's Center for Addiction Medicine and the study's lead author.

Schuster and the team of researchers set out to determine if cognitive functions that are potentially harmed by marijuana use in adolescents — particularly attention and memory — improve when they abstain from marijuana.

They recruited 88 pot-using teens and young adults, ages 16 to 25, and got some of them to agree to stop smoking (or otherwise consuming) marijuana for the month.

Schuster says the researchers wanted to recruit a range of participants, not just heavy users or those in a treatment program, for example. Some of the young people smoked once per week; some smoked nearly daily.

The researchers randomly assigned the volunteers into an abstaining group and a nonabstaining group. They delivered the bad news to those chosen to be abstainers at the end of their first visit, and Schuster says, they took it surprisingly well.

"People were generally fine," she says. "We kind of went through what the next month would look like and helped them come up with strategies for staying abstinent."

One motivation for the non-tokers to stick with the program? They received increasing amounts of money each week of the month-long study.

The researchers urine-tested both groups on a weekly basis to make sure that the THC levels for the abstinent group were going down, and that the levels for the control group were staying consistent as they continued using.

Also at each visit, the participants completed a variety of tasks testing their attention and memory through the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery, a validated cognitive assessment tool.

The researchers found that after four weeks, there was no noticeable difference in attention scores between the marijuana users and the nonusers. But, the memory scores of the nonusers improved, whereas the users' memories mostly stayed the same.

The verbal memory test challenged participants to learn and recall new words, which "lets us look both at their ability to learn information the first time the words were presented, as well as the number of words that they're able to retrieve from long-term memory storage after a delay," Schuster says.

Verbal memory is particularly relevant for adolescents and young adults when they're in the classroom, Schuster says.

"For an adolescent sitting in their history class learning new facts for the first time, we're suspecting that active cannabis users might have a difficult time putting that new information into their long-term memory," Schuster says.

While this study didn't prove that abstaining from cannabis improves adolescents' attention, other studies have found that marijuana users fare worse in attention tests than nonusers. Schuster hypothesizes it might take more than four weeks of abstinence for attention levels to improve.

Interestingly, most of the memory improvement for the abstinent group happened during the first week of the study, which leaves the researchers feeling hopeful.

"We were pleasantly surprised to see that at least some of the deficits that we think may be caused by cannabis appear to be reversible, and at least some of them are quickly reversible, which is good news," Schuster says.

One weakness of this study is its lack of a non-marijuana-using control group, says Krista Lisdahl, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee who was not involved with the study but also researches the neuroscience of addiction. Because of this, it's difficult to conclude whether the improvements in memory brought the participants back to their baseline levels prior to using marijuana.

Also, because the study lasted only four weeks, it's impossible to draw conclusions about the long-term effects of marijuana usage for young people, such as how marijuana directly affects academic performance, sleep patterns or mood.

Lisdahl says that longitudinal studies such as the NIH's Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study could provide more information about what marijuana does to the adolescent brain. It might also reveal what happens if adolescents stop using marijuana and if their brain functioning can completely recover.

Lisdahl is helping with the NIH study, which has, to date, enrolled more than 11,000 children ages 9 and 10 and will follow them into young adulthood. It's the largest long-term research study on child brain development in the U.S., and it assesses how everything from screen time to concussions to drugs affect adolescents' brains.

In the meantime, Lisdahl says the findings from the new study — that abstinence from marijuana is associated with improvements in adolescents' learning and memory — sends a positive message.

"I remain optimistic that we can show recovery of function with sustained abstinence," she says.

Rachel D. Cohen is an intern on NPR's Science Desk.

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satadru
10 days ago
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"When ___ Give Up Pot, Their Cognition Quickly Improves."

Let's avoid the "oh no won't somebody please think of the children" scaremongering please.
New York, NY
samuel
15 days ago
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Well duh
The Haight in San Francisco
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sarcozona
15 days ago
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Cannabis is for old people.

Sorry, But There's No Such Thing as the "Clean Part" of Moldy Bread — Food News

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We've all been through this scenario: you get hungry, stroll over to the kitchen, and decide you'll make the perfect sandwich — layered with your favorite deli meat (or veggies), a slice of lettuce, some tomato, a dab of mayonnaise (which is not dead for this millennial) — all in between your favorite sliced bread.

READ MORE »

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samuel
58 days ago
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Uh-oh
The Haight in San Francisco
jcherfas
57 days ago
Nor will the unclean part hurt you.
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A public bus named desire

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When I first stumbled across the streetcar vs bus rapid transit (BRT) debate, I was strongly biased towards streetcars. My opinion was largely shaped by the few weeks I spent in Berlin this past summer. While I was in Germany, I relied most heavily on Berlin's friendly yellow Metrotrams. I really only used the U-bahn and S-bahn when I had to make long, cross-city trips, where the travel time difference was more than 10 or 15 minutes. I used the bus system only once, despite the fact that it was just as extensive as the Metrotram lines.

At the time, I naturally gravitated towards the Metrotrams without consciously considering buses, its main substitute. For all obvious intents and purposes, the bus and metro systems are basically equivalent, so it's strange that I used one so heavily while all but ignoring the other. I can think of a few reasons why this might have happened:

  • As a first-time visitor to the city with a limited grasp of the German language, I liked the sense of direction the fixed tracks offered. When trying to figure out how to get somewhere, it was nice to see the rails trailing through the city, clearly marking the Metrotram's route.

  • Somehow the trams felt more predictable and dependable than the buses. This intuition is wrong, at least in Berlin's case—bus routes as just as well-defined and stable (at least in the short-term), and all transit options in Berlin run almost perfectly on time (yay for German precision, unlike the Catrain, Muni, and BART...). My hypothesis is that this perception is another byproduct of the fixed tracks, because they foster a sense of permanence that boosts the entire system's credibility.

  • I've always associated buses with the sketchiest, most obnoxious transit riders. My main exposure to buses has been riding SF's dingy, smelly cars crushed by mobs of drunk Giants fans and overly talkative tourists. I'm confident in saying that buses have a similar image problem among most middle-class Americans. My stigmatized perception of buses governed my transit decisions, despite the fact that Berlin's buses are actually very clean, and its riders are on the whole very polite.

Upon further reflection, I see that streetcars' advantages (as expressed in

a previous post

all have one trait in common: they are a product of perception. Meanwhile,

buses' advantages are far easier to quantify

. As a result, it is easy for BRT advocates to dismiss streetcars' advantages as petty and unimportant.

I have begrudgingly come to agree that BRT is the way forward; streetcars' modest advantages simply cannot justify their cost. However, rather than dismissing them entirely, it is critical that planners incorporate streetcars' advantages into BRT systems. A few ideas for how they could do this:

  • Make the bus routes clear and permanent feeling. Ideally you have full-on bus "tracks", segregated from the other lanes of traffic, but you could also simply paint bus routes directly onto the streets. This paint would serve the same function as tram rails running through the city, offering a sense of direction and permanence for a fairly low price.

  • Emphasize a clean aesthetic on both the interior and exterior of the buses. Implement a zero-tolerance policy for messes, and design the interior and exterior of the buses with long-term aesthetics in mind.

    • All forms of public transit –– but especially buses –– are vulnerable to stigmatization as being dirty and unsafe. Given the sheer volume and diversity of riders, it's easy to descend below a basic level of sanitation, comfort, and even safety. Any public vehicle quickly devolves into a moving trashcan and graffiti canvas without proper custodial attention. (Never use Caltrain's onboard bathrooms towards the end of rush hour. Just don't.) However, this is not inevitable!

      • Riders take far less care with their messes when a space is already dirty, which means that once a vehicle is gross it often spirals down to the depths of disgust until it is finally cleaned. It's important to keep to cleanliness above that critical threshold to ensure that it doesn't enter that spiral.

      • People are less inclined to use transit if it is dirty. This results in thinning out of riders, leaving the space to sketchier characters. I for one feel much more safer riding public transit alongside a large, diverse group of people rather than in a vehicle that is nearly-empty with the exception of one or two sketchy people. This has a cyclical effect –– without a critical mass of reputable-looking individuals, others are less likely to take that form of transit. This leads to a downward spiral of perception as well as actual safety.

    • Certain materials, colors, and designs are better suited for long-term use. For example, the brushed aluminum seats on the Seoul metro (to the right) are easy to clean and long-lasting, and they're even shiny! Those cars look like they belong in an industrial kitchen, not an urban transit system. In contrast, seats in many American buses are made of much less durable materials. I have a particularly vivid memory of the buses that hauled my elementary school classes off to various field trips. The seats were outfitted with an ugly vinyl that were brittle and cracked, revealing filthy yellow padding below. A simple choice of more durable, attractive materials would have single-handedly improved my childhood impression of mass transit. (Lucky for the school, we were a captive audience.) If the seats had looked more like the radiant blue of the bus seats pictured to the right, I would have seen mass transit as just another way to get around rather than as a stinky death trap.

It's true that none of the benefits of streetcars account for tangible differences. If riders' only goal was to get from point A to point B as fast and cheaply as possible, BRT would categorically sweep streetcars in this debate. However, riders care about more than just speed and cost; their transit decisions are also influenced by comfort and safety, and they are just as much shaped by perception as the actual experience.

Streetcars clearly win on this count –– they are just so cute! They harken to an older time, and they feel more permanent and sturdy than buses. These factors do not outweigh the advantages of BRT, but they should not be ignored. The perfect system would incorporate the advantages of both options, and there are easy, low-cost steps that could be taken in that direction.

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samuel
75 days ago
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Bus Rapid Transit versus streetcars. I want streetcars to win but BRT is the future. This post goes into the exciting details about what should happen to make BRT closer to streetcars in terms of perception.
The Haight in San Francisco
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bjtitus
73 days ago
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An excellent analysis of BRT. I have the same issue with Light Rail versus bus in Denver. While light rail has traffic advantages, I still view buses as less permanent and dirtier.
Denver, CO

Cathedral of Mirrors at Jerusalem Light Festival 2017 from Mads...

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Cathedral of Mirrors at Jerusalem Light Festival 2017 from Mads Christensen on Vimeo.

The Cathedral of Mirrors was featured at JLF 2017, located next to the wall around the Old City.

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samuel
77 days ago
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Some good looking light art here.
The Haight in San Francisco
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This Plant-Based Egg Actually Tastes Totally Authentic

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Bye, tofu scramble!
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samuel
77 days ago
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Never have I had a good vegan egg product. But I'm hopeful it can be done.
The Haight in San Francisco
jprodgers
77 days ago
I really want to know how well it bakes in things. I'm not vegan, but I live in a house that I cook vegan for and none of the vegan egg methods or products are to my liking.
deezil
74 days ago
I'm allergic to eggs, so I will be purchasing this.
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Offering a more progressive definition of freedom

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Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He is a progressive Democrat, Rhodes scholar, served a tour of duty in Afghanistan during his time as mayor, and is openly gay. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Buttigieg talked about the need for progressives to recast concepts that conservatives have traditionally “owned” — like freedom, family, and patriotism — in more progressive terms.

You’ll hear me talk all the time about freedom. Because I think there is a failure on our side if we allow conservatives to monopolize the idea of freedom — especially now that they’ve produced an authoritarian president. But what actually gives people freedom in their lives? The most profound freedoms of my everyday existence have been safeguarded by progressive policies, mostly. The freedom to marry who I choose, for one, but also the freedom that comes with paved roads and stop lights. Freedom from some obscure regulation is so much more abstract. But that’s the freedom that conservatism has now come down to.

Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.

Clean drinking water is freedom. Good public education is freedom. Universal healthcare is freedom. Fair wages are freedom. Policing by consent is freedom. Gun control is freedom. Fighting climate change is freedom. A non-punitive criminal justice system is freedom. Affirmative action is freedom. Decriminalizing poverty is freedom. Easy & secure voting is freedom. This is an idea of freedom I can get behind.

Tags: language   Pete Buttigieg   politics
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satadru
71 days ago
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FDR talked about this in his "Four Freedoms" speech. And let's not forget that "freedoms" and "rights" have long been interchangeable. The problem with discussing rights & freedoms is that they're just aspirational without enabling legislation and structures.

And yes, freedoms and rights in this context have LONG been owned by progressives. Look at the UDHR, or at the various human rights conventions thereafter. Look at what they cover, and what they do NOT cover. For instance, the convention on women doesn't include talking about violence against women...
New York, NY
WorldMaker
77 days ago
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Don't Think of an Elephant. Words have power and progressives do need to stop ceding them.
Louisville, Kentucky
popular
76 days ago
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acdha
77 days ago
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Washington, DC
betajames
77 days ago
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Michigan
samuel
77 days ago
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The Haight in San Francisco
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lousyd
76 days ago
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Some of that stuff isn't freedom. And the word freedom is being used in multiple conflicting ways.
Wilmington, NC, USA
jhamill
76 days ago
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I endorse this idea of freedom.
California
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