While marijuana use is still illegal by Federal law in the United States, 29 states have legalized it for medical use and 9 states for recreational use in adults aged 21 and over. Unfortunately, this is giving people a false sense that it is safe. Even more worrisome is that young people don’t have any idea the harms it has on the developing brain. A survey of school age students concluded that 5.4% of eighth graders, 14% of tenth graders, and 22% of twelfth graders reported having used marijuana at least once in the past 30 days. Up to 50% of adolescents who use marijuana will continue to use as adults and are 85 times more likely than nonusers to develop cocaine addiction.
Regular, heavy, or daily use of marijuana in adolescents causes abnormalities in brain development. The younger a child starts using it creates the most potential harm to them. Brain maturation is not complete until the mid-twenties. Studies have shown decreased reaction time, impaired motor coordination, and increased motor vehicle accidents among marijuana users. Additionally, users have poor school and work performance and an increased school dropout rate. Psychiatrically, increased depression, anxiety, and psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia, are seen as well as higher suicide attempts. Marijuana is an addictive substance and has a withdrawal syndrome in those that use regularly.
Medical marijuana is not FDA regulated. Concentrations of the active psychoactive substance vary from sources. As a matter of fact, the concentration of THC in marijuana has increased from an average of 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014. This is due to the manipulating the plants while growing. Therefore, young people are being exposed to higher concentrations of toxic substances in marijuana.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the less harmful teens perceive a drug to be, the more the use of that drug increases. Since marijuana is legal in some states, many young people may believe it can’t really be harmful. As parents, teachers, and mentors, we need to educate our students on the dangers of marijuana — especially for the developing teenage brain.
American Family Physician July 15, 2018
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse-2016
By Kelly Schibler, MD, Medical Director of Magnolia Recovery Center