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Studies of Possible Effects of Marijuana on Adolescent Brain

Written By: Gateway, , Prevention

Article by: Troy Becker
Posted in: Shawnee Outlook

While we struggle to navigate the sparsely charted waters that is the legalization of medical marijuana, there are some facts that we need to be aware of that must be considered.

Let us first look at the numbers that we’re aware of so far. In a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry, it was determined that adolescents who use marijuana regularly were more likely to have lower test scores when it comes to memory, learning new information and higher-level thinking problem solving and processing information. In 2014, Lancet Psychiatry found that adolescents who use marijuana regularly are 60 percent less likely to finish high school, complete college and are seven times more likely to attempt suicide than those adolescents who refrain from marijuana use. Finally, a 2017 study done at the University of Montreal found a link between marijuana use in adolescence and psychotic symptoms, and that may be largely caused by depression.

As we already know, adolescence is a time when there are many changes happening developmentally. Persistent marijuana use has been associated with a measurable decline in cognition, memory and IQ, and it has also been determined that abstinence from marijuana use does not fully restore these functions in people who started using marijuana during their adolescent years. Overall, the risks that are greatly enhanced when the onset of use occurs during adolescence are memory, attention, learning, school performance, problematic behaviors, a noticeable decline in motivation and an increased risk of mental health problems, primarily depression and anxiety.

To sum it all up, an adolescent’s brain is still under construction. Early use of marijuana can throw a lot of delays into that construction. Think of it like I-35 between Oklahoma City and Dallas. Some sections of the brain that should be getting developed could take far longer than they should. Basically, it has been shown to impair attention, memory, learning and decision-making in addition to poor school performance, higher dropout rates, increased welfare dependence, greater unemployment and lower life satisfaction.

I don’t like to be all doom and gloom, however, so I must add that there are miles to go when it comes to research. Correlation does not always prove causation. Yet, much of the damage done to mental capabilities has been known about for a long time. When it comes to dropout rates, welfare dependence, unemployment and life satisfaction, it remains to be seen whether or not that is directly related to marijuana use or if there are outside factors that influence these outcomes of drug use and poor life outcomes, such as emotional distress, peer influence, tendencies toward problem behavior and family dysfunction.

Parents, here are some considerations. It’s up to you to make certain your kids are aware of the risks associated with marijuana use. Be open and honest with your kids and begin to discuss these matters with them at an early age. Open lines of communication are essential.

  • Ask them what they’ve heard, and avoid being negative and judgmental.
  • Offer the facts about the risk and consequences.
  • If you decide to discuss your own marijuana use, talk about why you used and don’t minimize the risks or dangers of drug use.
  • Let them know that their brain will continue to develop into their 20s, and while it is developing they’re at a greater risk for harm.

Troy Becker is employed as an LPC-candidate by Gateway to Prevention and Recovery and is a graduate of St. Gregory’s University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in social science and Master of Arts in counseling psychology. Troy has also received his Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling emphasis from Mid-America Christian University.

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