Marijuana laws are changing at a rapid pace across all 50 states. As of 2019, cannabis is fully illegal in only 10 U.S. states—with the laws and regulations of the remaining 40 ranging from decriminalization to full allowance of legal recreational use. In addition to the clear dangers that this ready availability presents to those in recovery from addiction, the shifting tide of opinion and legality has obfuscated the dangerous effects of the drug.
Marijuana Use and Brain Development
In countries where marijuana and myriad other forms of cannabis products have become more accessible to people of all ages, there has been a resultant rise in usage. According to Statistics Canada, Canadian cannabis consumption across all demographics is up dramatically since legalization, with usage increases ranging from 4% to 22% by gender and age group. This correlation in accessibility to use is particularly notable among teens. Recent studies conducted in North America have indicated that 19% of teens aged 15-19 use marijuana, and that these numbers are increasing year over year at a rapid pace, particularly since the onset of legalization. As societal shifts allow for more exposure to cannabis consumption it is important to better understand the harmful implications of chronic cannabis use during critical periods of development such as adolescence.
Numerous NIDA and university-backed studies conducted between 1995 and 2016 investigating the effect of cannabis on brain development suggest that there is a persistent effect on cognition and neuropsychological performance in individuals who initiate cannabis use as teenagers. Simply put, this means that the dangers of marijuana are extremely pronounced in the developing brain.
The studied effects in adolescents who report persistent cannabis dependence include:
- Pronounced intelligence quotient (IQ) decline
- Significant impact on overall IQ
- Evidence suggests that overall IQ deficits do not fully recover after cessation of use (1 year), particularly in adolescent-onset cannabis users.
- Observable negative impact on executive function and psychomotor speed.
- Individuals that started using cannabis during adolescence have persistent neuropsychological deficits even after 10 months of abstinence.
Marijuana Use and Mental Illness
For individuals of any age suffering from schizophrenia or schizoid-adjacent personality disorders, marijuana poses an additional set of dangers. As with other groups living with mental or emotional dysregulation, schizophrenia and addiction often co-occur. In fact, an estimated 50 percent of individuals suffering from schizophrenia have a history of substance abuse. People with schizophrenia often engage in substance abuse as a way to self-medicate or alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.
Marijuana has long-established links with psychosis, especially among people with a pre-existing genetic predisposition towards developing schizophrenia.Cannabis consumption has been demonstrated to exacerbate the course of illness in patients with schizophrenia. Heavier marijuana use, greater drug potency, and exposure at a younger age can all negatively affect the disease trajectory, even accelerating the time of a first psychotic episode by up to six years.
Changing Perspectives and Increased Risks
While these neurological effects are of particular concern for brains that are still developing during adolescence and for individuals with a predisposition towards certain mental illnesses, further consequences are becoming evident as attitudes toward marijuana shift and consumption rises. Increased motor-vehicle accident risks, cancer correlation, and poor school performance have all been linked to cannabis use in the past decade of study.
These risks have largely been obscured from widespread awareness by shifting public opinion. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) a survey of teens between 2007 and 2013 showed a decrease in concern regarding the risks of marijuana use. The Canadian study referenced earlier also saw changing attitudes toward marijuana, which researchers believe could act as a gateway toward more harmful drug addictions in adulthood.
This has created additional challenges for substance abuse educators as they inform the public on the dangers of using marijuana. As the media glamorizes marijuana use in TV shows and movies, it has become more important than ever to begin conversations within our own communities about the risks of marijuana use. If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic cannabis dependency, seek treatment at the nearest opportunity.
Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.