Marijuana and the Teenage Brain

Marijuana and the Teenage Brain

There are two things that are certain about marijuana. The first is that it doesn’t discriminate, attaching itself to all different lives – fortunate, unfortunate, happy, sad, educated, wealthy, poor. The second is that whatever the life it attaches to, marijuana will do damage if it stays.

It has been proven beyond doubt that frequent marijuana use damages the brains of teenagers and young adults.

Throughout adolescence and into the mid-20s, the brain continues to develop in ways that are critical for higher-order thinking and executive functioning (memory, reasoning, problem solving). White matter, which is important for neural efficiency, increases in quality and volume into the early 30s.

Given that adolescence is such an important developmental period for the brain, exposure to drugs during this time has a greater impact on the brain than it does during adulthood.

Psychologists have noted the effects to include cognitive decline, poor attention and memory and diminished IQ.

‘It needs to be emphasised that regular cannabis use, which we consider once a week, is not safe and may result in addiction and neurocognitive damage, especially in youth.’ Dr Krista Lisdahl, a director of the brain imaging and neuropsychology lab at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

In a 2012 longitudinal study of 1037 participants who were followed from birth to age 38, it was found that those who regularly used marijuana lost on average of 5.8 IQ points by the time they reach adulthood. This was compared to those who never regularly used marijuana whose IQ slightly increased by 0.8 IQ points from childhood to adulthood.

The physiological evidence is clear.

Brain scans of regular marijuana users show significant structural changes including abnormalities in the brain’s gray matter. These abnormalities are associated with reduced cognitive function, increased mood symptoms and poor memory. These changes have been found in users as young as 16 and were not related to major medical conditions, prenatal drug exposure, developmental delays and learning disabilities.

These findings are not intended to push against the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Rather, it should highlight the need to implement stringent conditions on access.

‘When considering legalization, policymakers need to address ways to prevent easy access to marijuana and provide additional treatment funding for adolescent and young adult users,’ Lisdahl explained.

In considering legalisation of the marijuana, weight also needs to be given to regulating the levels of psychoactivetetrahydrocannabinol (THC – the chemical responsible for the majority of marijuana’s psychological effects) to reduce the potential neurocognitive effects.

There is research evidence that has linked frequent use of high levels of THC to depression, anxiety and psychosis.

According to Dr Alan Budney of the Department of Psychiatry at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, ‘Recent studies suggest that this relationship between marijuana and mental illness may be moderated by how often marijuana is used and potency of the substance. Unfortunately, much of what we know from earlier research is based on smoking marijuana with much lower doses of THC than are commonly used today.’

In a 2013 study of over 17,482 teenagers, marijuana use was found to be higher among teenagers from countries that had a more accepting attitude towards medical marijuana. Greater tolerance of marijuana for medicinal purposes seems to promote a greater tolerance for the drug generally, at least by adolescents, possibly because of a diminished perception of the risks associated with the drug.

The risks of marijuana on the developing brain have been extensively documented. The debate around the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes is in full swing. Should this end on medicinal marijuana being approved, research points to the importance of consideration being given to restricting access, reducing the potency of THC and raising awareness, particularly in adolescents, on the risks of recreational use.

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George W

Could the link between marijuana and depression, anxiety and psychosis be as a result of higher use among these type of people rather than causing these mental issues directly?

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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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