Friday, 24 October 2008

Shrinking Brains ... Who Cares!

Ice shrinks the brain. Alcohol shrinks the brain. Cannabis shrinks the brain. Even veggies shrink the brain. You probably know that cannabis shrinks the brain because we hear it all the time but what happens when it is reported that a few drinks shrink the brain ... not much it seems.
Brain shrinks even with a glass or two The Australian Adam Cresswell - Health Editor
October 2008 THAT after-work glass of red wine may be less medicinal than you thought: researchers have found that drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol shrinks the brain. Brain volume naturally decreases by nearly 2 per cent per decade as people age, but scientists had speculated that moderate alcohol intake could slow this process, by improving heart function and bloodflow. But US researchers have dealt a blow to that theory, finding a "significant negative linear relationship" between the amount of alcohol someone consumes and the space their brain takes up. [...] The study, which was based on an analysis of drinking habits and brain volume in nearly 2000 US adults between 1999 and 2001, found that while the brains of people who never touched alcohol occupied nearly 78.6 per cent of their cranial space on average, this dropped to about 78.2 per cent in people who previously drank but had since quit, and dropped again, to just under 77.8 per cent, for moderate drinkers. Heavy drinkers were lower still, at 77.2 per cent. [...] "The public health effect of this study gives a clear message about the possible dangers of drinking alcohol," the authors concluded in the study, published yesterday in the Archives of Neurology. "This study suggests that, unlike the associations with cardiovascular disease, alcohol consumption does not have any protective effect on brain volume."
Recent research from the US has indicated that even moderate use of alcohol may reduce the size of the brain. Of course it got a run in the papers but missing in action was the usual frenzy from the anti-drug, moral crusaders. Isn’t alcohol a drug? Isn’t it dangerous? In fact it costs Australia about $15.3 billion per annum to clean up after alcohol abuse and along with tobacco is responsible for 95% of drug related harm. Finally our government is addressing this problem but I wonder why the usual crowd of crusty crusaders are not cheering on the attempt to tackle our biggest drug problem? Maybe it’s the wrong government?
ADCA congratulates the Government for making alcohol one of the main health priorities, noting that 95% of drug-related harm is caused by alcohol and tobacco. We look forward to working with State & Territory AOD peak bodies, and Governments to create and implement effective community-based solutions to reduce risky, excessive consumption of alcohol. David Templeman - ADCA Chief Executive Officer
So, what is it with the moral crusaders and alcohol? Why does alcohol receive a pass but other drugs like cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamines(ice) get singled out as being dangerous? According to a report in The Lancet, The Academy of Medical Sciences group ranked alcohol at number 5 in the top 10 list of dangerous drugs with amphetamines at number 8. Cannabis and ecstasy didn’t even make the top 10 list. The UK report put deaths from amphetamines(number 8) in the UK at 35 per year, tobacco(number 9) at 114,000 deaths with alcohol(number 5) deaths at 40,000 per year. Cannabis has no recorded deaths. Since alcohol is listed as the fifth most dangerous drug, where does that leave warnings about it’s potential for harm? The previous government was apparently “tough on drugs” but alcohol somehow missed the zero tolerance net.
Alcohol plays an important role in the Australian economy. It generates substantial employment, retail activity, export income and tax revenue. Alcohol also has an important social role... -Government National Alcohol Strategy. May 2006
We all know what happened during alcohol prohibition in the US. It was a complete flop but repeating the same mistakes with drug prohibition is deemed appropriate. Now we have the same problems as alcohol prohibition but only much worse and on a larger scale. Why would these people accept that forcing abstinence on alcohol consumption is impossible yet they support the same approach for other types of drugs?
The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this. -Albert Einstein on prohibition
Most people know that cannabis is relatively harmless if taken in moderation yet governments are relentless at telling us otherwise. Until the Rudd government, the dangers of alcohol were not emphasised proportionately to illicit drugs although it is the major cause of drug related health problems for society.
But by declaring binge drinking to be the nation's most urgent social problem, at a time when alcohol consumption per capita has remained steady for more than a decade, the Prime Minister has provided succour to the illicit drug harm-minimisation lobby, who have always tried to derail attempts to clamp down on drugs such as cannabis by claiming alcohol abuse is a far greater scourge. -Miranda Devine. Sydney Morning Herald - Booze crusade ignores bigger evil
Interestingly, alcohol is also the drug of choice for nearly 100% of politicians.
A new biography on Australia's second-longest serving Prime Minister reveals Mr Howard was deeply affected by his 1989 loss to Andrew Peacock, breaking down in a tearful apology to staff and sometimes drinking too much. "Without the responsibility of a leadership role, Howard would on occasion drink more heavily than he should," the book, John Winston Howard : A Life by Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington, says. On one occasion, after over-indulging at a farewell dinner for a close friend in 1990, Mr Howard admitted entering the chamber drunk. "I had a couple of South Australian reds ... I remember that night, yes. I can't dispute the story," he told the authors. -Howard: 'I was drunk at work', July 2007
The conclusions of society towards cannabis were made long ago and although there is a current surge towards producing junk science to convince us otherwise, the reality is most dope smokers have no problems what-so-ever which leaves us again laughing off the latest scare tactics as just more drug propaganda.
We have to treat it(cannabis) as an illicit drug as dangerous as heroin, amphetamines or cocaine -Christopher Pyne
For some reason, I can’t picture Chris Pyne saying the same of alcohol. Maybe his brain has shrunk because of all the drinking? Alcohol is also the drug of choice for the right wing media commentators who so regularly tell us how dangerous illicit drugs are. The problem is, they are wrong.
As a society we have sensibly tried to quarantine this human urge to consume mind-altering substances by authorising the time-tried relatively safe substance alcohol and outlawing other drugs. This has been a sensible approach, causing problems for a few and avoiding the potentially socially catastrophic effects of unrestricted drug use. -Miranda Devine. Sydney Morning Herald - Booze crusade ignores bigger evil
But when the spin doesn’t work, you can always resort to pinching the arguments against your cause and modifying it accordingly.
Most teenage binge drinkers will go on to be normal useful citizens. A few will become alcoholics. -Miranda Devine. Sydney Morning Herald - Booze crusade ignores bigger evil
Hey, haven’t I heard that before somewhere? e.g. Most teenage drug users will go on to be normal useful citizens. A few will become drug addicts. It seems that for those whose drug of choice is alcohol, only the risks involved in taking illicit drugs deserve the attention of the public.
Researchers at the Melbourne University's Centre for Adolescent Health who compared the effects of cannabis and alcohol use found overwhelming evidence cannabis was "the drug for life's future losers". -Miranda Devine. Sydney Morning Herald - Booze crusade ignores bigger evil
Back to shrinking brains. Incidentally, there is no evidence that a smaller brain is a problem. Women for example have a much smaller brain than men but have the equivalent processing ability. For all it’s worth, reports of brain shrinkage probably means nothing in reality unless it affects our thinking or memory capacity.
So, does cannabis shrink the brain? No. But recent volumetric analysis of brain structures does show the amygdala and hippocampus volume of long term - that's long term - smokers to be significantly less than non smokers. If this as serious as boxing, alcohol abuse, football concussions, cranial trauma or cycling accidents? Not in a million years. But, it is very good research and has quantified and qualified serious issues related to cannabis use. -God Hates Drug Addicts
That’s the whole point, isn’t it. Brain shrinkage linked to cannabis is from abnormally high, long term use but brain shrinkage from alcohol was from a few drinks or very moderate to low level usage. Surely there’s some hysterical headline there for the moral crusaders to panic us about? Hang on ... it’s only alcohol.


Tonia said...

Don't elephants have really tiny brains? Aren't they also rather intelligent? Could this whole 'small brain' issue owe something to Freudian obsessions with 'size'?

David said...

Shrinking brains is the wrong enemy.

Watch out for those meths crazed shrunken head collectors.

Ben Pobjie said...

But alcohol isn't really a DRUG - it's like, you know, beer.

Miranda Devine is so stupid you can grow tumours reading her.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Tonia.
Thanks Ben.
Go away David.