4 Ways Cannabis Harms the Teenage Brain
As the legalization of cannabis expands in the U.S., interest is skyrocketing in the drug’s potential as a therapy for physical and psychological issues. Many teens see legalization as a green light to light up. But even though some research suggests possible therapeutic effects for people with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, other studies point to marijuana’s negative effects on young, developing brains.
1. Increases the risk of depression and suicidal behavior
Using marijuana before the age of 18 significantly increases the risk of developing depression, suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts in young adulthood, according to a 2019 review of 11 studies involving more than 23,000 people. The study concluded, “This is an important public health problem and concern, which should be properly addressed by health care policy.”
2. Impairs cognitive function
Decades of research shows that marijuana impairs brain functions, such as memory, learning, and attention. Adolescents who use cannabis frequently have been shown to experience a decline in IQ, perform more poorly in school, and are more likely to drop out. Later in life, they have higher rates of unemployment and tend to have lower rates of satisfaction with their life in general.
3. Disrupts the brain’s maturation process
During the teenage years, the brain is undergoing rapid development. A process called myelination takes place, coating neurons with a protective white-colored sheath that helps speed communication in the brain. This important process, which gives the brain’s white matter its color, isn’t completed until a person’s mid-20s. Heavy cannabis use as an adolescent can interfere with this process, damage the brain’s white matter, and result in a higher incidence of impulsivity, especially in teens who started smoking marijuana prior to the age of 16.
4. Reduces blood flow to the brain
A 2016 brain imaging study on nearly 1,000 cannabis users showed overall decreased blood flow compared to a healthy group of nonusers. The brain region most likely to be affected in marijuana users in this study was the hippocampus, which is involved in memory, moods, and learning. Low blood flow on brain SPECT imaging has also been seen with ADHD, depression, suicide, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more.
Any addictive substance can ruin lives and ruin families, and marijuana is no exception. Amen Clinics takes a 360-degree approach to treating addictions — addressing any co-existing conditions and using a whole suite of strategies to enhance overall brain health.
If you’re concerned about an adolescent’s cannabis use, reach out today to make an appointment online or by calling 888-288-9834.