A new study came to a thought-provoking conclusion that smoking marijuana alters the way the human brain responds to money.
By Anna LeMind
Researchers of the University of Michigan Medical School conducted a four-year study that involved 108 people in their early 20s. For the purpose of the study, the participants were asked to play a game in which they could potentially win a small amount of money. They had to click a button every time they saw a target on the screen and they were told that, based on their performance, they could win 20 cents or $5; lose the same amounts of money; or have no reward or loss.
During the game, the participants’ brains were connected to an fMRI scanner aimed to monitor the activity in the nucleus accumbens, the area of the brain that regulates the response to rewards.
At the moment when a person is anticipating any kind of reward, including money, the cells in this brain area are activated and release dopamine also known as “reward chemical” or “pleasure chemical.” Thus, the stronger the response in the nucleus accumbens is and the more dopamine is released, the more pleasure a person feels.
As a result, chronic marijuana users exhibited a weaker response to reward than the participants who smoke pot less frequently or didn’t use it at all. So, the more marijuana a person smokes, the weaker their brain response to a money reward is.
Now, the question is: is it a good or a bad thing? The authors of the study interpret these results in the way that is most favorable to the official point of view on smoking pot: they say that the study proves that marijuana is a highly addictive drug that changes a person’s behavior and causes problems with emotional functioning.
Mary Heitzeg, study author and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School, told Live Science:
“There is not as much pleasure that is being received from something that would naturally give somebody pleasure.”
However, don’t forget that the study was focused only on receiving money and didn’t measure the brain responses to any other kinds of reward or sources of pleasure, including smoking pot itself.
So why is it considered “natural” that money should give everyone the same amount of pleasure and a person who doesn’t actively respond to a money reward is viewed as a sort of damaged? I really don’t agree with this statement and don’t see the results of this study as proof of how harmful marijuana is.
Quite the opposite – these results could also mean that pot smokers just give less importance to the money, which is not bad at all. Still, it makes sense why the mainstream science interprets these results this way – our society is based on greed and material values, so a weak response to money is regarded as a negative thing. And if we also take into account the stigma that has surrounded marijuana for decades, it becomes clear why the study with quite limited results received this kind of generalization.
What do you think about this study and what is your point of view on its results? Share your thoughts in the comments below!