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Marijuana and the Teenage Brain

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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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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.








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There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about moving our children towards something that fuels their anxiety and distress. The drive to scoop them up and lift them over that ‘something’ can feel monumental, because as parents we are wired to protect our children from distress. This is related to attachment, and it’s is one of the strongest instincts known to us humans. .
♥️
But sometimes we will need to be brave enough for them, and remove avoidance as an option. This might feel awful but it’s important. The brain learns from experience so the more they avoid the more they will be driven to avoid, but the more they are brave the more they will be brave. It’s okay if this happens in little steps, as long as the steps are forward. .
♥️
When we take avoidance off the table, things might get worse before they get better. When something that has always worked stops working, we’ll do that thing more before we try something different. We all do this. If avoidance has worked as a way to bring calm, the amygdala (the part of the brain in charge of anxiety) will be rock solid in the belief that this is the only way to feel safe. .
♥️
When we stop supporting avoidance, the amygdala will often recruit other emotions (anger, distress) to make us (the recruited support) bring back avoidance as an option. This is not bad behaviour or manipulative behaviour. It is absolutely 100% NOT that. It’s the brain making way for the only way it knows to feels safe and calm - avoidance. .
♥️
There is no doubt you love your kiddos and would do anything to support them. But anxiety has a way of messing with this. When anxiety drives avoidance, it can feel as though we’re supporting our kids but we’re actually supporting anxiety. .
♥️
When we lift them over the things that make them anxious, but which are safe (and often life-giving), we are inadvertently aligning ourselves with anxiety and its message that they aren’t brave enough, or that the only way to be safe is to avoid the things that make them anxious. But we know this isn’t true. We know they are capable of greatness, and that greatness is often made of tiny brave steps.♥️
.

There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about moving our children towards something that fuels their anxiety and distress. The drive to scoop them up and lift them over that ‘something’ can feel monumental, because as parents we are wired to protect our children from distress. This is related to attachment, and it’s is one of the strongest instincts known to us humans. .
♥️
But sometimes we will need to be brave enough for them, and remove avoidance as an option. This might feel awful but it’s important. The brain learns from experience so the more they avoid the more they will be driven to avoid, but the more they are brave the more they will be brave. It’s okay if this happens in little steps, as long as the steps are forward. .
♥️
When we take avoidance off the table, things might get worse before they get better. When something that has always worked stops working, we’ll do that thing more before we try something different. We all do this. If avoidance has worked as a way to bring calm, the amygdala (the part of the brain in charge of anxiety) will be rock solid in the belief that this is the only way to feel safe. .
♥️
When we stop supporting avoidance, the amygdala will often recruit other emotions (anger, distress) to make us (the recruited support) bring back avoidance as an option. This is not bad behaviour or manipulative behaviour. It is absolutely 100% NOT that. It’s the brain making way for the only way it knows to feels safe and calm - avoidance. .
♥️
There is no doubt you love your kiddos and would do anything to support them. But anxiety has a way of messing with this. When anxiety drives avoidance, it can feel as though we’re supporting our kids but we’re actually supporting anxiety. .
♥️
When we lift them over the things that make them anxious, but which are safe (and often life-giving), we are inadvertently aligning ourselves with anxiety and its message that they aren’t brave enough, or that the only way to be safe is to avoid the things that make them anxious. But we know this isn’t true. We know they are capable of greatness, and that greatness is often made of tiny brave steps.♥️
.
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