Lost Potential: Marijuana’s Effect on the Teenage Brain

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Lost Potential: Marijuana’s Effect on the Teenage Brain

marijuana teenage brain

Across the country, marijuana is being legalized for medical purposes and recreational use. Attitudes are changing—and that may not be good for teens and young adults. Recent studies are finding that chemicals in marijuana impact the developing brains of teenagers, diminishing critical cognitive abilities.When it comes to possible long-term effects from marijuana, “there are a lot of open questions,” says Susan Weiss, Ph.D., a research leader at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “But there’s a growing literature, and it’s all pointing in the same direction: Starting young and using frequently may disrupt brain development.” Greater access to marijuana and the mistaken attitude that the drug is harmless could put teens at risk. 

Adolescent Brain Development

During the teen years and until age 25, the human brain is developing and maturing intensively. This period of growth sees improvements in the brain’s wiring—forming vital connections to aid functions like memory, motivation and mood regulation. The system involved in this process is the endocannabinoid system, which is also the area of the brain affected by THC (the chemical in marijuana that produces a high). During this period of brain circuit formation, a naturally occurring chemical, anandamide, is carefully balanced to ensure correct and efficient formation of these important brain connections.  

Marijuana’s Effects on Teenage Brain Development

Introducing marijuana into the endocannabinoid system at an early age can disrupt the normal formation of mature circuits necessary for the higher-order thinking of adulthood. Brain scan studies have confirmed significant differences in brain development with early and repeated marijuana use. A study by Northwestern Medicine published in 2013 showed abnormal brain structure and poor memory performance in teens who used marijuana daily for about three years.

A longitudinal study in 2012 followed participants from birth to age 38 and found that marijuana use at an early age resulted in a six-point IQ drop by adulthood. Other harmful results of early marijuana use include:

  • Memory impairment
  • Learning difficulties
  • Lost motivation
  • Lower confidence
  • Mood disorders
  • Decreased life satisfaction

The addition of chemicals from marijuana to the natural anandamides in the brain may overstimulate and disrupt the important circuitry being forged during formative teenage years. Additional studies have indicated that the disruption of these critical connections may be lasting, with effects continuing long after marijuana use is discontinued.

Not Your Grandad’s Weed

Increased potency of marijuana available today is adding to concerns about the drug’s effect on adolescent brains. Average THC concentration in marijuana of the 1970s was around five percent, but a 2015 analysis of legal marijuana samples from Colorado showed that THC potency had increased to almost 30 percent. In addition, marijuana is no longer just “weed” to smoke. A variety of products are available in states where the drug is legal. Marijuana edibles are especially dangerous for teens. These baked goods and candies metabolize more slowly, take longer to reach a “high” and are easy to over-consume.

Will Legal Acceptance Lead to More Teen Use?

Changing attitudes toward marijuana have not yet resulted in greater use of the drug by teenagers. However, there are indications that teens do not consider marijuana a dangerous drug. Researchers speculate that teens’ attitudes may be influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • MJ’s designation as a medical drug
  • Its natural origin
  • Glamorization in media & pop culture
  • Casual attitude of parents who may have used the drug

Further scientific studies are in the works to determine the effects of marijuana and marijuana derivatives on the brains of youths. In the meantime, teens should be made aware of the potential for lasting damage to their brains and their lives.

Medical Detox: The First Step in Successful Recovery

Getting started with drug and alcohol use is easy—a drink to relax at a party, some weed to share with a friend, a few pills to help you study and more when you need to sleep. When you decide to stop using, you might think it should be just as easy—but it’s not. Alcohol and drugs create body chemistry changes that can’t be ignored. If your drug or alcohol use has turned into misuse, dependence or addiction, you need help!

The first step in getting the help you need is to call Ken Seeley Detox866.888.4911. Your healing can’t begin until your body is cleansed of the toxic substances that hold you captive. Alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepines have unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms that make it difficult to stop using on your own. At Ken Seeley’s comfortable detox facility in Palm Springs, you’ll receive around-the-clock individualized medical care. As your body detoxifies, our team of healthcare professionals will help you stabilize and manage the symptoms of withdrawal and prepare for successful rehab and sobriety.

Take the first step today! Contact the Ken Seeley Detox admissions team online, or call 866.888.4911 to verify insurance coverage or discuss marijuana addiction with our experienced team of professionals.

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