Effects of Marijuana on a Teen’s Developing BrainMarijuana has a reputation as a not-so-serious chill drug: Bob Dylan sang about it; Rolling Stone has published a list of the “15 Greatest Stoner Songs Ever;” and politicos like Bill Maher openly speak of the joys of weed on cable, but teenagers, and their parents, should be aware that marijuana is not all about chilling out.

It is important, when discussing marijuana, to be aware of the changes that have occurred in this widely available plant since the early 1990s: In, 2017, high school students are smoking marijuana that has about three times the THC than that smoked by the predecessors two to three decades ago.

What is THC? It stands for the long name of the active chemical in marijuana- tetrahydrocannabinol. There is no consensus in the medical community about the effect of ingesting this more potent version of marijuana, though there are reports of patients who have entered emergency rooms complaining of hearing voices after taking large amounts of THC.

So, what do we know about the effects of marijuana on a teen’s developing brain?

In 2017, science has some stories to tell us about how marijuana can affect a developing human brain, which is not fully developed until we reach our mid-20s.  Laws governing this ubiquitous drug have begun to evaporate, meaning that it is time to become informed about how marijuana use can affect the teenage brain:

1. Marijuana and the Brain

Regular marijuana use affects parts of the human brain, such as those that govern attention, coordination, decision-making, emotions, learning, memory and reaction time. To see a visual diagram of the brain, highlighting the parts this drug affects; click here.

2. Heavy marijuana use can lower a growing human being’s IQ

Yes, they are plenty of smart people around who used to smoke unholy amounts of marijuana in their youth, but a scientific study conducted in Dunedin, New Zealand, revealed some stark results.

The Dunedin study focused on 1037 people who were born in 1972/73 and followed them into their early 40s. What did the researchers learn?

Subjects who began to smoke pot early and did so frequently lost up to 6 points of their IQ by the time they were 38. Unfortunately, this group of subjects, at the age of 38, had an IQ that was lower than 70% of their peers.

Some subjects began smoking weed as adults with fully developed brains, and they did not suffer a loss in their IQs, though when adults who smoked weed often as teenagers quit the habit, they did not regain the IQ points they had lost, suggesting that the changes to their abilities may be permanent.

3. Daily smokers of pot are less likely to graduate from high school

The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, published statistics gathered by researchers in Australia and New Zealand that seem to show that teenagers who smoke weed daily are 60% less likely than those who do not smoke weed to graduate from high school.

And with 60% of the jobs offered in the American workforce requiring applicants to have a high school diploma, graduating from high school matters.

Critics of the above statistics suggest that the subjects who smoke weed daily have other things in common that could lead to their dropping out of school, like the judgment of their teachers, problematic family structures and so on. Still, the correlations in the data exist, and point to a worthy concern.

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4. Does pot smoking lead to schizophrenia?

In 2002, the Dunedin study referred to above, revealed a strong correlation between marijuana smoking and schizophrenia in youth. The journal Addiction has published an article that suggests regular users of marijuana have double the risk of developing schizophrenia; so 14 in 1,000 of non-marijuana users will develop schizophrenia as compared to 7 in 1,000 for those who have had no interaction with the drug.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine reported, in January of 2017, that youth who smoke marijuana do risk schizophrenia. Meanwhile, the Harvard Review has published a study suggesting that schizophrenia is likely passed on throughout a family rather than by being brought on by marijuana use, so it is fair to say that there continues to be some dissension in the medical community.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have put it this way: For youth with a family history of schizophrenia, marijuana use can further this risk.

5. Suicide risk?

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales conducted research that showed young people who start to smoke marijuana before the age of 17, and do so daily, are 7 times more likely to commit suicide than young people who do not smoke marijuana regularly.

Suicide is the second most common cause of death for teenagers in America.

6. Anti-social behavior

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Teenagers who regularly smoke marijuana may begin to stay away from sports games, social activities and even family get-togethers, as they want to smoke pot. One in 6 teens who regularly use marijuana will become addicted to the drug and will withdraw from social activities as a result.

Reading about the potential effects of marijuana on the growing human brain can be a downer; no parent (or child) wants to feel defeated upon learning that using marijuana may have already negatively affected your child’s brain. Learning more about this drug and how it may affect your child will provide you with the tools you will need to confront this issue in a positive, useful way.

Why not contact a drug rehabilitation center, like Beachway Therapy Center, and speak with some experts who understand marijuana and how it affects the brain, social interactions, the ability to learn and more. You can also learn about the heavy use of this drug versus light use, and how to identify and addiction.

As our laws regarding marijuana use change, our youth may be more likely to use marijuana, which is why it is more important than ever to understand the risks of doing so.

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