Teen Brain

Frequent marijuana use can have a significant negative effect on the brains of teenagers and young adults

As marijuana continues to gain acceptance all around the nation after its legalization for medical and recreational use in some states, one important point is being omitted from the narrative. What about our teen’s. After all, they are our country’s future. What message is this outpouring of marijuana’s acceptance sending to teens in an effort to address teen marijuana abuse. And most importantly, let’s not forget that there is medical evidence that marijuana is more dangerous to teens and more specifically their brain than older age groups.

The younger you are, the more harm teen marijuana abuse can do to your brain. There are cannabinoid receptors in all of the significant portions of the brain and using marijuana throws off the function of all of those parts of the brain. There are more receptors in the developing brain than at any other age. The fetal brain is the most highly susceptible (to damage from marijuana use), as is the adolescent brain.

“It needs to be emphasized that regular cannabis use, which we consider once a week, is not safe and may result in addiction and neurocognitive damage, especially in youth,” said Krista Lisdahl, PhD, director of the brain imaging and neuropsychology lab at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Marijuana use is increasing, according to Lisdahl, who pointed to a 2012 study showing that 6.5 percent of high school seniors reported smoking marijuana daily, up from 2.4 percent in 1993. Additionally, 31 percent of young adults (ages 18 to 25) reported using marijuana in the last month.

Brain imaging studies of regular marijuana users have shown significant changes in their brain structure, particularly among adolescents, Lisdahl said. Abnormalities in the brain’s gray matter, which is associated with intelligence, have been found in 16- to 19-year-olds who increased their marijuana use in the past year, she said. These findings remained even after researchers controlled for major medical conditions, prenatal drug exposure, developmental delays and learning disabilities, she added.

Other long-term effects of teen marijuana abuse include:

  • Altered brain development
  • Poor educational outcomes
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Decline in attention and memory

All of those are more common the earlier you start using. Teens that use marijuana will see an eight-point IQ drop and when they stop using, those eight points, will never be recovered. For those who use the drug after age 25, while they are chronically using, they will also see an eight point IQ drop, however once they stop using, they can recover those eight points.

This is the difference of the brain, and the stage of development that the brain is in, that makes the difference as to how long-term the impairments are and how your brain is able to recover or not recover.

Additional long-term effects of marijuana include chronic bronchitis symptoms and risk of chronic psychosis. Research shows if you have any sort of vulnerability or genetic heritance, someone in your family has schizophrenia, for example, marijuana use as a teen will exacerbate the risk and make it more likely that you’ll develop the disease.