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Marijuana and the Teenage Brain

A teen age girl smoking recreational Marijuana during the annual Global Marijuana March.  

Recent changes in marijuana policies across the United States and other countries have led some people to worry about how these changes will impact teenage populations. Some of this worry stems from the evidence that marijuana may hurt the developing brain. The interaction between marijuana and the teenage brain may be driven by the development of important areas of the cortex. For this reason, teen marijuana abuse remains an area of concern.

Marijuana Use Among Teens

Teen marijuana statistics indicate that use has declined among 8th graders and remains unchanged among 10th and 12th graders compared to five years ago. Among 12th graders, approximately six percent continue to report daily use of marijuana last year. Thus, marijuana use among teens remains an area of concern, due in part to marijuana’s effects on the brains of teenagers.

Effects of Marijuana on the Teenage Brain

What are the effects of marijuana on the teenage brain? It is important to keep in mind that the teenage brain is still developing, particularly the cortex. The cortex is critical for higher-level thought, planning, decision making and personality. The effects of marijuana on a developing brain are mostly seen in this region. Research has shown that adolescents and teenagers who regularly smoke marijuana have reductions in the grey matter of their prefrontal and insular cortex. This means there are fewer cell bodies in these cortical brain regions. Moreover, these effects on the cortex are long-lasting, persisting for at least one month after marijuana abstinence.

There is also the risk of marijuana-induced psychosis in teenagers. While the use of marijuana has typically been associated with the start of a psychotic episode in individuals with disorders such as schizophrenia, the introduction of high potency cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids has increased this risk.

Short Term Effects of Marijuana on the Teenage Brain

So what are the short term effects of marijuana on the brain, particularly the teenage brain? The duration and frequency of THC exposure play a big role in determining the degree to which symptoms develop and persist. In general, marijuana use is associated with memory loss in the short term. Additionally, marijuana use is associated with other neurocognitive deficits in the areas of attention, verbal learning, and processing speed, although studies suggest that these symptoms reverse after three months of abstinence.

Chronic Exposure to THC During the Teen Years

The effects of long term marijuana use on the brain have not been extensively studied. However, there may be several things to look out for if one is worried about chronic THC exposure. In one landmark study, scientists found that long term marijuana use was associated with a decline in IQ. In other words, data suggests that weed lowers IQ.

However, the greatest risk may be related to the long terms effects of marijuana on mental health. For example, in one study, marijuana use was associated with increased reports of anxiety among college students, while frequent use was associated with depression and other substance use problems.

Synthetic Marijuana and the Teenage Brain

There are many dangers of synthetic weed and the synthetic drug ‘spice.’ Spice, or synthetic weed, is not the same as regular cannabis. Even its chemical content is very different, and smoking regular weed should not be equated with smoking synthetic marijuana. Synthetic THC-like chemicals are extremely potent and have the potential to cause even more problems for the teenage brain than regular cannabis. For example, the risk of hallucinations is increased with synthetic marijuana products. Synthetic marijuana effects on the brain are serious and not to be underestimated.

Finding Help for Teen Addicts

Teen addiction is a very real problem that needs a real solution. Teens addicted to marijuana need help too. If you or a loved one are looking for a Florida teen rehab center, look no further. At Next Generation Village, we offer confidential and personalized resources to meet your teen’s specific substance abuse needs. Contact us today to get help for teen marijuana or other substance addiction.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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