Marijuana and The Developing Brain
Drugs like marijuana used during adolescent years can hinder your child’s brain development. Recent preliminary research by leading health institutions in the US suggest that using a substances like marijuana can result in short and long term consequences on brain development.
The main active chemical in marijuana, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), alters how information is recognized and processed by the hippocampus, which manages learning and memory. THC also impacts the functioning of the cerebellum, altering balance and coordination. Youth and young adults between the ages 10-25 are going through vital brain development in many areas of the brain. These parts control the development of planning skills, impulse control, problem solving, and cognitive processing. This stage of brain development is often referred to as the window of opportunity. During this time our brains are at increased risk from substance use because our prefrontal cortex – the brain control center is in its final step in brain development.
Get inside the teen brain to learn how alcohol, marijuana, and prescription painkillers – three of the most commonly abused drugs by teens – affect the brain.
Marijuana and Mental Health
Research shows that using marijuana can worsen depression and lead to more serious mental health problems. Young people who use marijuana weekly have double the risk of depression later in life.
Those who used marijuana at least once a month in the past year are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who do not use marijuana.
Heavy Marijuana users are more likely than non-users to be diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life. A recent study found that people who had used marijuana more than 50 times before the age of 18, had a three fold increased risk of developing schizophrenia later in life.
One 16-year study showed that individuals who were not depressed and then used marijuana were four times more likely to be depressed at follow up.
Another study investigated changes over a 14-year period and found that marijuana use was a predictor of later major depressive disorder.
Yet another study over a 21-year period found that marijuana use was associated with depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.
A 2007 study of 3,239 Australian young adults from birth to age 21 found a relationship between early initiation, and frequent use of cannabis and symptoms of anxiety and depression, regardless of a personal or family history of mental illness.
Marijuana affects your memory
Research has shown that marijuana’s impact on memory and learning can last for days or weeks after the high wears off because the active chemical (THC) alters the way information is processed in the hippocampus – an area of your brain responsible for memory formation.
Marijuana is addictive
Here are the criteria for “dependence:” tolerance; withdrawal symptoms; using a drug even in the presence of adverse effects; and giving up social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
Our brains are wired to ensure that we will repeat life-sustaining activities by associating those activities with pleasure or reward. Whenever this reward circuit is activated, the brain notes that something important is happening that needs to be remembered, and teaches us to do it again and again, without thinking about it. Because marijuana stimulates the same circuit, people learn to abuse it in the same way.
When some drugs of abuse are taken, they can release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do. The effect of such a powerful reward strongly motivates people to take drugs again and again, leading to dependence.
Other criteria for substance dependence include tolerance (needing more of the substance to achieve the same effects, or diminished effect with the same amount of the substance); withdrawal symptoms; using a drug even in the presence of adverse effects; and giving up social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
According to the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 4.3 million Americans were classified with dependence on or abuse of marijuana. That figure represents 1.8 percent of the total U.S. population and 60.3 percent of those classified as individuals who abuse or are dependent on illicit drugs.
Read more about marijuana and addiction in this interview with Nels Kloster, MD, of the Brattleboro Retreat
One of the common misconceptions around marijuana is that it is not addictive. Can you explain how marijuana is addictive?
Dr. Kloster: I find it interesting when people use something everyday, and seem unable to do without it, and then say it is not addictive. Marijuana has many properties that allow us to call it addictive. First, it alters our mood and thinking, and it does so quickly. We can also develop a tolerance to it. This means that we require greater amounts to have the same effect. And there is withdrawal when one suddenly stops smoking. Researchers at UVM, of all places, have delineated this syndrome which includes cravings, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and lost appetite.
Myths and Facts
Can you seperate myth from fact when it comes to marijuana?
Myth #1 Marijuana is harmless
Myth #2 Marijuana is not addictive
Myth #3 Marijuana is not as harmful to your health as tobacco
Myth #7 If I buy Marijuana I am not hurting anyone else
Myth #10 The government sends otherwise innocent people to prison for causal marijuana use
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