Teenagers ask, “Is Marijuana Harmless?”

Teenagers ask, “Is Marijuana Harmless?”

I think it is a good question. In my research I found a trend that is very troubling; adolescent and young adult marijuana use follows the perception of harmful effects. If the perception is that marijuana is harmlful the use goes down and vise-versa. The rapid push for legalization across the United States is luring people into a more positive perception than warrented and, as expected, the reported use by high school students is dramatically highter than it was seven years ago. Neuro-scientiest Dr. Yasmin Hurd suggests that those pushing for legalization do so “without consideration of its impact on one of the most vulnerable population, namely teens, or without consideration of scientific data”.

So what does the scientific data offer? The simple answer is a lot.

Brain Deficits

Physically, the brain doesn’t fully mature until a person reaches his or her mid-twenties. Because of this biological fact, adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable to marijuana induced physical changes to the brain structure. The structural changes with marijuana use and impair the normal function of the brain and increase the risk for a wide range of mental health issues including:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • schizophrenia
  • bipolar disorder
  • impaired ability to learn new material then recall it later
  • impaired visuospatial function; impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity

Lifetime Outcomes

Outcomes observed later in life for adolescent marijuana users are sobering. In a 25 year longitudinal study one research team found that those using marijuana between ages 14 and 21 had

  • poorer educational attainment
  • lower income
  • greater welfare dependence
  • higher unemployment
  • lower relationship satisfaction
  • lower life satisfaction

Another longitudinal study found that adolescent users tested at age 38 had lower IQ scores than they were first tested between the ages of 7-13.

How much marijuana use does it take to have problems? No one knows for sure as there are no known safe levels of consumption. That being said, researchers have defined heavy use as once a week or more. Also, impairment was noticed in those who used marijuana as little as once a month or less.

Some rightly argue that correlation research does not prove causation yet as medical doctor R. J. Hilt astutely observes, “having witnessed adolescents with high pre-morbid functioning develop long-term psychosis without any signs of having such risks before abusing marijuana, the ‘it is just a coincidence’ explanation, to me, is unsatisfactory”.

As the push to legalize continues, hopefully this information will help you push back. If you would like references contact me through email.

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