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UC San Diego Holds Meeting On Gaps In Marijuana Research

Evening Edition

Aired 4/14/16 on KPBS News.

Scientists gathered at the university to discuss what we still don’t know about the effects of using pot.

California voters could soon decide to legalize recreational marijuana. With that on the horizon, scientists gathered at UC San Diego on Wednesday to discuss what we still don’t know about the effects of marijuana use.

The symposium "Cannabis Across the Life Course: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know?" brought together scientists who say there’s still a lot to learn about the effects of pot, especially on the young developing brain.

UC San Diego’s Terry Jernigan is one of the local scientists leading the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, a national effort to track brain development in 10,000 American kids over the next decade.

She said the study will use brain imaging to look at how neurodevelopment is affected by a wide range of factors, including socioeconomic status, mental health and drug use.

"It has been felt that we really need to start monitoring the impact of the availability of these drugs — and the changing nature of the drugs — particularly on adolescents," Jernigan said.

The study is now working to enroll kids in San Diego and at other sites throughout the country. Jernigan says some kids will live in states where marijuana is legal and easier to access. Others will come from states unlikely to legalize pot.

She hopes to compare these groups to see the effects of different marijuana policies on adolescent brain development.

Jernigan said some studies have suggested that pot may negatively impact development of the teenage brain. But those studies don't give a complete picture of the brain before and after drug use. That's why she and her colleagues want to start tracking kids as young as 9 years old.

"[At that age] we expect very few children will have had any exposure," Jernigan said. "So we can perhaps better address this question about what specifically are the effects.”

Previous studies overseen by UC San Diego scientists have found an array of medicinal benefits from marijuana, including relief for neuropathic pain and reduction of spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis.

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