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Teen Cannabis Use and Psychiatric Disorders: Is There a Connection?

Teen addiction

Maybe you have heard some myths about marijuana in the past, like that it can cause cancer or turn users into violent felons. While no evidence has been found to bolster those claims, it is becoming increasingly clear that marijuana is not completely harmless, especially when the person smoking it is a teenager.

In fact, recent research is revealing a disturbing relationship between teen cannabis use and the development of psychiatric disorders in early adulthood. While no scientific “(pot) smoking gun” has been discovered, researchers are wary about the effects that consuming marijuana can have on the adolescent brain.

Teen Brains are Still Growing Up

Advances in technology have enabled doctors to actually observe the inner workings of the human brain. One of the major findings in recent decades is that the brain is not fully developed until a person reaches his or her mid-20s. The later-maturing portions of the brain include the areas which assess risk and solve problems – which is why teens tend to be more erratic, impulsive, and prone to risky or more dangerous behavior than adults.

Pot and Hypomania

Perhaps unsurprisingly, scientists are beginning to notice a correlation between cannabis use and a form of bipolar disorder. More specifically, teens who consume marijuana are statically more likely to experience hypomania, which is often referred to as Bipolar II disorder.

Hypomania sufferers experience substantial mood swings, but their “highs” are not as intense as those felt by people with Bipolar I disorder (also known as manic depression). British research published in late 2017 in the Schizophrenia Bulletin found a strong link between regular marijuana use (at least 2-3 times a week) in teens and later development of hypomania.

Marijuana and Schizophrenia

Perhaps a more troubling discovery is how marijuana is increasingly being associated with schizophrenia. One study conducted at Tel Aviv University found that adolescent mice who were genetically predisposed to schizophrenia were more at risk of developing the psychiatric disorder if they were exposed to cannabis.

Teen addiction

Even more alarming results were presented in Berlin at the World Psychiatric Association’s World Congress in October. A study of some 1200 adults suffering from schizophrenia revealed that those who consumed marijuana before they turned 18 developed the disorder a decade earlier on average than their peers. Another researcher at the event pointed to studies which indicated that adolescent use of high-potency cannabis (16 percent THC or greater) was a characteristic of almost one out of every four initial psychosis episodes.

Do not Panic – But Do Not Ignore It, Either

It is important to note that no causal relationship between pot and mental illness has been unearthed by researchers. Moreover, advocates of marijuana legalization (for adults) claim that the current research is far from conclusive and that there has not been a corresponding rise of schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders in the adult population.

Still, the available data should underscore the need for parents of teenagers to be vigilant in watching for signs of marijuana use. If you suspect that your child has been consuming cannabis, do your research on its effects before confronting him or her. Then sit down with your teen and explain the risks associated with pot use, try to figure out why he or she is experimenting with the drug, and set some clear ground rules with logical consequences for violating them. If your teen continues the behavior, you may need to consult a medical professional or consider enrolling him or her in a rehabilitation program.

Marijuana may not be as scary as opioids, heroin, cocaine, or other more potent illicit drugs. But if your teenager is consuming cannabis – especially higher-potency strains that are more powerful than the pot that was popular a generation ago – he or she could be increasing the risk of falling victim to an incurable psychiatric disorder.

If you think drug treatment might be appropriate for your teenager, contact us today for more information.

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