Californians over age 21 can now legally purchase marijuana for recreational purposes. People in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Alaska can already do so. Later this year, residents in Massachusetts and Maine will join their ranks. Meanwhile, 22 other states have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form, such as for medical use.
Los Angeles area psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen, cofounder of the wildly popular church-based weight loss program, "The Daniel Plan" and founder of several Amen psychiatric clinics, told CBN News that based on his 35-year career in mental health, he believes marijuana should be avoided. "I'm terribly opposed to the idea that marijuana is good medicine," Amen said.
In an article published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease Dr. Amen's research on the brains of nearly one thousand marijuana users revealed "virtually every area of their brain was lower in activity, especially an area called the hippocampus, which is the brain's major memory structure," than non-marijuana users.
"Our research demonstrates that marijuana can have significant negative effects on brain function," he said, "The media has given the general impression that marijuana is a safe recreational drug, this research directly challenges that notion."
Dr. Amen concedes marijuana is no worse than some other legal, mind-altering substances such as alcohol and prescription anti-anxiety Benzodiazepines, but says they should all be avoided. "I think we should have a preventive approach to marijuana, alcohol and certain drugs we prescribe."
Amen Clinics have reportedly built the world's largest database of functional brain scans. He says medical imaging shows people who choose to use mind-altering substances such as marijuana, alcohol and Benzodiazepenes suffer cognitive difficulty. "In my mind it all starts with loving and caring for your brain," he said, " We started brain imaging 26 years ago, and all these things are bad for the brain. You can see it on the scans we do. And if you love your brain, you won't do any of them."
Amen says people use these drugs, "Because they feel bad and don't know how to feel good. So they resort to short-term fixes that cause serious, long-term problems."
Dr. Amen advocates healthier alternatives. "There are really simple things that can help people feel good: being altruistic, having a deep feeling of meaning and purpose, prayer, meditation and eating the right foods."
Dr. Amen says diet influences our mood more than most people realize. "There's one study that says people who eat up to eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day have a linear increase in their level of happiness," he said, "But in our society we have fast food that's pro-inflammatory. It's loaded with sugar. It's deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. We're just setting ourselves up to feel bad."
The relatively new science of epigenetics, inherited changes in gene expression, plays a part, according to Dr. Amen. "This is completely Biblical. There's a verse in the Bible that the sins of the father can affect up to three or four generations," he said. "That if a mom or dad eats badly, even before they're pregnant, they've just increased the risk of heart disease and depression in their babies and their grand-babies. And so the bad habits we have in our society are increasing the risk of trouble in future generations," he continued.
Dr. Amen says he's not opposed to marijuana legalization. "I don't think we should put people who smoke pot in jail. I don't think we should put them in a cage, sleep deprive them and put them with bad people and feed them bad food." However, he says even if it's legal, people should avoid it. "Portugal has a model I like where they legalized it, but then they taught people,'this is not good for you.'"