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Scientists have released the results of a new study that shows that cannabis use can age the brain by over two and a half years.
Researchers found that prolonged cannabis use was second only to schizophrenia in aging the brain, with a worse effect on it than alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder and ADHD.
The study, which was among the largest even carried out on brain images, took 62,454 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans from over 30,000 people of every possible age, from new born babies to centenarians.
Dr Daniel Amen, one of the authors of the study and the founder of Amen Clinics, said "Based on one of the largest brain imaging studies ever done, we can now track common disorders and behaviors that prematurely age the brain.
"Better treatment of these disorders can slow or even halt the process of brain aging.
"The cannabis abuse finding was especially important, as our culture is starting to see marijuana as an innocuous substance. This study should give us pause about it."
Researchers analysed blood flow through the brain, which is seen as one of the best indictors of the age of the brain - which was then compared with the actual age of the patient to give an output of whether the brain was prematurely aged.
One of the other scientists who worked on the research, Google's Sachit Egan, added: "This paper represents an important step forward in our understanding of how the brain operates throughout the lifespan.
"The results indicate that we can predict an individual's age based on patterns of cerebral blood flow.
"Additionally, groundwork has been laid to further explore how common psychiatric disorders can influence healthy patterns of cerebral blood flow."
The full paper is scheduled to be published in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, where it can be peer reviewed by doctors and other experts.
Dr George Perry, from the University of Texas, San Antonio, was not involved in the study but said that it was vital research.
"This is one of the first population-based imaging studies, and these large studies are essential to answer how to maintain brain structure and function during ageing," he said.
"The effect of modifiable and non-modifiable factors of brain aging will further guide advice to maintain cognitive function."
The study was carried out by a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University, UC San Francisco and UCLA as well as corporate backers such as Google and Amen Clinics.
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