I always thought “skunk” was a term for the black and white mammal that sprays stank when scared or a six-pack of beer gone bad (for example, “Due to excessive sun exposure, this Heineken is skunked”). Apparently, it’s also a form of highly potent marijuana. Forbes recently ran a story about a new report out of the UK that indicates skunk weed may cause brain damage.
Skunking Your Skull
King’s College in London released a report claiming skunk usage is “linked to changes in the white matter connections between the two hemispheres of the brain.” From what I gather, when the white matter is in trouble, cognitive impairment occurs because your brain has trouble connecting the dots. They scanned a lot o’ brains for the experiment, 56 of which belonged to people who had been diagnosed with initial signs of psychosis and 43 of which were considered the healthy controls. The results were pretty conclusive:
“People who smoked skunk more often had a greater likelihood of damage their white matter than people who smoked less frequently or who smoked lower-potency version. And using skunk was linked to white matter damage regardless of whether or not psychotic symptoms were reported.”
Right out of the gate, if the substance is called “skunk,” shouldn’t that be cause for alarm? It got its name because the scent of it resembles that of the animal’s spray. Yuck. This is not to be confused with spice or flakka, both of which are synthetic drugs that come with their own set of dangers, because God forbid humans just use what mother nature has organically provided for mind altering.
Skunk weed is more commonly used for medicinal rather than recreational purposes but those lines seem to be increasingly blurring. It seems like someone looking to wind down after work and watch Netflix might not need the same strain of cannabis as the person diagnosed with leukemia but with these clinics popping up everywhere, who can possibly start to regulate that? Skunk is differentiated by its higher degree of THC, a psychoactive compound. The percentage of this compound in pot has steadily increased the past few decades, while CBD, a therapeutic compound, has actually decreased.
Which Came First?
The author of the story does point out, this theory is correlation, not cause and effect. Just because this group shows white matter damage, it doesn’t mean it’s from the skunk. It also doesn’t exclude the possibility that whatever cognitive issues caused by the damaged white matter is what led them to feel like they needed the pot in the first place. The same goes for psychosis and schizophrenic behaviors, which are often linked to pot. There have been studies attempting to explain the relationship between marijuana use and psychotic episodes and schizophrenia but nothing is fully proven. It’s often hard to tell which came first, the marijuana use or the symptoms. Self medicating is a thing, in case you hadn’t heard. Whether its booze, pills, pot brownies or plain old brownies—we often feel the need to numb out. I see why it’s difficult for a doctor to decipher what’s been created by drugs from what was always there but self-treated with drugs.
Beware the Stench
At the risk of sounding like I’m preaching from some sort of sober soap box—and this is just one woman’s observation based on personal experience—people who are chronic, multiple-times-a-day pot smokers, tend to be more forgetful, disorganized and slow on the uptake than those who don’t wake and bake. Having said that, the people I know who enjoy pot moderately in recreation are some of the most on-the-ball ladies and gents on the planet. So frequency, I guess potency and your God-given brain chemistry play a combined role in the long term side effects. Just like how some lifelong cigarette smokers may never get lung cancer if they don’t have the genes for it while people who’ve never smoked do.
As with any other substance that alters brain chemistry, skunk smokers should probably proceed with caution, and keep plenty of mints and perfume handy.
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