Marijuana and Young Minds

As marijuana inches closer to legalization in many parts of the country—Maryland included—we’re still uncovering more about its effects on the brain.  Although legal use is often restricted to adults who are at least 21 years old, this hasn’t stopped adolescents from using it.  With greater accessibility comes greater concerns, especially since marijuana has lasting effects on the developing brain.

 

Here’s What We Know

Today, we’re not going to address the legalization aspect of this particular drug or even how it’s utilized for pain management.  At Focal Points Therapy, our specialty is neuroscience and how new information can be incorporated into innovative treatment plans!   Therefore, we’re going to stick to what we know:  how marijuana affects the teenage brain. 

 

Even in the short-term, marijuana can impair cognitive functions.  Users may experience issues with memory, learning, attention, and decision-making.  These effects can last after the apparent high wears off—sometimes for days.  Unfortunately, the more a teenager uses this drug, the more negative outcomes he/she can experience.


Research (link to https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/11/marijuana-brain) has shown a connection between regular marijuana use and increasingly negative effects.  This might start with poor school performance or even an increased risk of dropping out.  Later in life, this could translate into lower employment rates, a higher reliance on welfare, and overall less satisfaction!  To be fair, all of this can’t necessarily be blamed on drug use.  Some researchers have suggested that certain individuals are predisposed to drug abuse, which could then lead them to this behavior.  As opposed to marijuana derailing their lives completely.  We agree that other factors are worth considering during the teenage years, including emotional distress, mental health issues, addictive tendencies, and even peer pressure.  Still, there are many neurological factors to consider. 

 

Teens’ Brains are Different

It’s no secret that your brain works differently when you’re younger.  In fact, it continues to develop until about your mid-20s.  With the frontal cortex—the part involved with your personality, planning, decision-making, and overall judgment—developing later than other regions.  There’s also a key part that’s often linked to marijuana use, called the endocannabinoid system.  Unsurprisingly, this is the part that contains THC receptors.  (To review, THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive component found in marijuana). 

 

On top of that, it also plays a large role in neurodevelopment, stress responses, and communicating/moderating other neurotransmitter systems.  This may be why teenagers are so sensitive to repeat exposure of this drug.  In fact, from a cognitive standpoint, marijuana is much more damaging to teens’ brains than alcohol.  Although alcohol has been linked to many of the same impairments including poor academic performance and memory loss, the developing brain has a better chance of recovering from damage linked to alcohol. 

 

In a recent Canadian study, scientists found that teens who regularly used this drug experienced significant delays and damages to their cognitive abilities.  Even after they stopped using marijuana, their performance did not improve.  Pointing to long-term, potentially irreversible neurological effects.  Other studies seem to indicate a growing link between drug use and mental health issues, including depression.  As well as a reduced IQ over time.  For more information on this research, check out this article (link to https://www.nbcnews.com/health/kids-health/marijuana-may-be-worse-teen-brains-alcohol-study-finds-n916296). 

 

If you’re concerned about your teenager experimenting with this or other drugs, try talking with them!  Although the research is certainly on your side, it can be difficult to help adolescents understand the far-reaching implications of their current behavior.  An open and honest discussion about marijuana and its potential effects might be the best approach.  Don’t forget, you have additional resources on your side—including Focal Points Therapy!  We’re happy to talk with you, your teen(s), and other community/educational organizations on this topic.  Please contact us for more information.

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