Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is a plant whose flowers contain the intoxicating chemical THC and sometimes a nonintoxicating counterpart, CBD. Medically, marijuana is proven to ease and potentially halt epileptic seizures in all age groups (Edward Maa, Paige Figi, 2014), and it is also claimed to assist with mental health issues, nausea, appetite, chronic pain, and inflammation (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). CBD is commonly used for medicinal purposes and can potentially help with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (Carmen Mannucci, Michelle Navarra, Fabrizo Calapai, Elvira V. Spagnolo, Francesco P. Busardo, Francesca M. Ippolito, Gioacchino Calapai, 2017 p.541). CBD has zero psychoactive properties and serves no impairment on a person’s state of mind or sobriety. THC on the other hand, has few medicinal benefits and is mostly used recreationally; it creates the “high” associated with marijuana. Furthermore, THC is only found in female cannabis plants; the females are responsible for flower production while both male and female plants contain CBD (M. Staff, 2018). Ingesting marijuana via smoking, eating, vaporizing, and sometimes through your skin (lotion, cream, etc) are popular methods of consumption. Users under the influence of THC report feelings of heightened mood, increased appetite, time distortion, and in some cases anxiety and paranoia.
Longitudinal and cross-sectional studies have shown that use of marijuana in minors can lead to poorer attention span and verbal memory, as well as deficits in executive functioning and psychomotor speed (K. M. Lisdahl, N. E. Wright, C. Medina-Kirchner, K. E. Maple, S. Shollenbarger, 2014 p. 149). As of 2017, 23% of twelfth grade students, 14% of tenth grade students, and 5.4% of eighth grade students were reported to have consumed marijuana in the last 30 days; however, 13% of eighth grade students, 30% of tenth grade students, and 45% of twelfth grade students had tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes (R. A. Miech, L. D. Johnston, P. M. O’Malley, J. G. Bachman, J. E. Schulenberg, M. E. Patrick, 2017 p. 89-90). Diverse results are evident. Hispanic and African-American students are more likely to consume marijuana than their Caucasian peers; in 2017, 6.5% of both Hispanic and African-American students reported to have used marijuana in the last 30 days in contrast to 3.9% of Caucasian students. This being said, male and female students were equally likely to have consumed marijuana in the same year (L. D. Johnston, R. A. Miech, P. M. O’Malley, J. G. Bachman, J. E. Schulenberg, 2018 p. 473).
Undoubtedly, daily use would have more severe effects than occasional use. As of 2016, 14% of twelfth grade students reported daily use of marijuana for at least 30 days at some period during their lives. Half of that figure reported that pattern of behavior started before the tenth grade, and 86% of the twelfth graders who had reported to have been daily users of marijuana in a one-month interval also reported frequency of that behavior within the last year (R. A. Miech et al. 2017 p. 531).
Many studies have shown that heavy marijuana use has impacts on cognition, grey and white brain matter, and brain function in adolescence. Young adults who matched criteria for a cannabis use disorder had an average loss of 5.8 IQ points from childhood to adulthood, while people who have never consumed marijuana in their lives showed slight increases in IQ points (K. M. Lisdahl et al. 2014 p. 145). Studies done on 16-19-year-olds who used marijuana in the past year showed larger hippocampus volumes. After a month of abstinence, female candidates had larger left amygdala, posterior inferior cerebellar vermis, and posterior PFC volumes; males also had larger posterior inferior cerebellar vermis volumes. These structural differences in grey matter are correlated with increased executive dysfunction, mood symptoms, and poor verbal memory (K. M. Lisdahl et al. 2014 p. 145). fMRI and PET studies on adolescent cannabis users reported abnormal brain activation patterns that correlated with “blunted processing of pleasant stimuli but heighted sensitivity to reward processing in the insula” (K. M. Lisdahl et al. 2014 p.146). Lack of research creates questions on whether abstinence can reverse the change in brain function, this being said, there are some studies that support the regain of verbal memory and cognitive function (K. M. Lisdahl et al. 2014 p. 147). Overall, chronic use of marijuana in adolescence can lead to various impacts on brain function. The human brain is not completely developed until the age of 25 (Dr. Sandra Aamodt, 2011 [interview by Tony Cox]), so possible complications in brain function is critical.
Life-long consequences are possible. Research has shown that marijuana use in adolescence (the heavier the use, the more likely the reaction) can cause an earlier onset of schizophrenia in those who have genetic, cognitive, and/or environmental predispositions. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that typically causes auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions, illogical thinking and behavior, and lack of motivation and concentration. Symptoms of schizophrenia can be lessened by medication, therapy, psychiatric assistance, and support from family and friends (Dr. Ranna Parekh, 2017). Marijuana does not cause the schizophrenia, but only interacts with other risk factors to contribute to the onset of the disease (Dr. A. Eden Evins, Dr, Alan I. Green, Dr. John M. Kane, Dr. Sir Robin M. Murray, 2012 p. 1463-1464). Dr. Murray provides the example that having a family history of schizophrenia will increase your chances of developing the disease, and those chances are even greater if you consume cannabis (p. 1464).
Marijuana is known for its medicinal abilities and is even being legalized in various places for its part as medicine. The different cannabinoids (chemical compounds found in marijuana), mostly THC and CBD, have different medicinal benefits. CBD is known for helping with anxiety, paranoia, PTSD, insomnia, mood regulation, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, and has provided many people with relief for these conditions (Shannon Scott, 2016). THC is used for pain, inflammation, nausea, and appetite loss. CBD, having no psychoactive effects, is deemed acceptable for children. The chemical has zero implications of intoxication and is used purely for medical purposes. Be that as it may, THC has the same effects whether used recreationally or medically (G. T. Carter, P. Weydt, M. Kyashna-Tocha, D. I. Abrams, 2004). Some research supports CBD as a countereffort to some negative effects of THC like anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis; at the same time, higher CBD levels showed increased brain activation patterns. Cognitive deficits are not linked to CBD consumption (K. M. Lisdahl et al., 2014). Based on the negative effects of adolescent marijuana use, THC would be unneeded for a minor. The medical benefits of THC, in most cases, do not outweigh the potential for negative reactions. Although a combination of THC and CBD can prove effective for patients with epilepsy, the THC dose is kept low to avoid the “high” THC provides (Edward Maa et al., 2014).
Marijuana is one of the most abused drugs by teenagers after alcohol and tobacco (NIDA, 2014). Its popularity in pop-culture, music, and media likely contribute to the number of adolescents nationwide who consume it. Education about marijuana’s adverse effects is key. The number of adolescents who believe marijuana poses health risks has been declining (Ryan A. Sheryl, Seth D. Ammerman, 2017 p. e2), proof that education about cannabis and its effects is inadequate. This education is in the hands of parents, teachers, and pediatricians that understand the risks marijuana holds for underdeveloped brains. Complete prevention is improbable due to teenagers’ rebellious and care-free nature; regardless, chronic use and therefore the negative effects that come with it can be prevented or minimized. In a generation witnessing a transformation in marijuana laws, opinions, popularity, and use, its important to educate the youth about the dangers marijuana holds for them.
The multitude of reports, studies, surveys, and research done on the negative effects of marijuana, particularly THC, all show the potential for brain activation pattern, cognition, and emotional regulation deficiency. For some, the risk is greater than normal; when the predisposition is already there, the chances of early onset schizophrenia increase with marijuana consumption. Lack of scientific research raises concern for opportunity to reverse some cognitive effects of marijuana consumption in adolescent years. Some studies suggest certain effects are reversable but its currently impossible to know the extent and which negative impacts are reversable. Medically, CBD has been found to be safe and beneficial to many people of all age groups suffering from various conditions. THC, none the less, carries the same risks whether used recreationally or medically. Due to these risks, THC is unlikely to be used as medicine for adolescents except in some circumstances where a combination of CBD and THC can be used to treat epileptic seizures.
Relatively harmless for adults, those with underdeveloped brains (the human brain is fully developed around age 25) have the possibility of life-long effects; for some these effects can be as serious as schizophrenia. Prevention of habitual and chronic use of marijuana in adolescence is vital during a time where marijuana is gaining popularity in not only society but government. Educating children about the potential dangers of marijuana has shown to be inadequate leading up to recreational and medical legalization across the nation and world. If adverse effects are enlightened and more research is done on the characteristics of cannabis and its effects, especially in minors, negative reactions and life-long impacts are less likely to become less common and marijuana in itself may become less popular among adolescence. Research supports when marijuana is used flippantly and recreationally by youth it can lead to potentially dangerous results.
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