Examining The Effects of Cannabis on the Adolescent Brain
January 21, 2020 01:24 pm ET
Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
One of the most controversial topics of discussion regarding cannabis is the effects it could have on the adolescent brain if they’re exposed to it. Many people fall back on the theory that early exposure to cannabis, particularly in adolescents, will cause schizophrenia. However, there is not enough research for us to draw a certain conclusion. To fully understand the effects of cannabis on children, there needs to be more research done. So, for now, we can have a look at all the available positions on how cannabis influences children as well as their brains.
Stance 1: Increased chances of mental illness and cognitive impairment.
Frequent cannabis consumption has been associated with increased rates of mental illness and cognitive impairment such as schizophrenia memory impairment, especially if the consumers were adolescents. The thing about that connection is that the processes underlying them are not well understood. The theory is that when individuals start consuming cannabis when they’re adolescents, the negative outcomes will be more severe and persistent.
The adolescent brain is busy maturing in ways that are making it more efficient and strengthening executive functions such as emotional self-control. Cannabis consumption is suggested to disrupt those processes of maturation. This is also the suggested reason why smoking when you’re an adult does not affect your performance as much as it would when your brain is still developing. Multiple studies have been done where adult cannabis consumers stopped consuming for at least 25 days. Their performance was then tested against those who do not consume at all. There was no difference in their performance, although scientists do not believe the same results will be yielded when adolescents are tested. Schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses, are complex in origin and are the result of a combination of internal and environmental disturbances. Despite what others believe, there is not enough research to make a solid claim about the adverse effects for adolescents.
Stance 2: Cannabis consumption doesn’t alter brain structure
A recent study that followed boys from adolescence into adulthood discovered few changes in their brain structure. The researchers identified four adolescent cannabis trajectories: non-users/infrequent users, desisters (ceasing consumption), escalators, and chronic-relatively frequent users. At the end of the study, the results were compared, and it revealed that there was no difference in the adult brain structure in any subcortical or cortical region. They concluded that adolescent use is not associated with differences in the structure of the brain when they become adults.
While this study provides some comfort for those worried about the effects of starting to consume cannabis young, it was also only performed on boys and this is also only one study. Stance 1 has more studies to support its’ theory. Yet neither of them has enough evidence to make a certain conclusion.
Stance 3: Worry concerning cannabis consumption in adolescents but no certainty of what it will do
Yasmin Hurd of the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai explains that cannabinoids made in our own bodies play crucial roles in writing our brains in prenatal and adolescence stages. Our cannabinoids at those stages regulate appetite, sleep, emotion, memory, and movement. When you consume cannabis, you change up the concentration of your own cannabinoids within your endocannabinoids. This is the reason for concern by Yasmin and many other professionals. However, these professionals state that more research needs to be conducted to confirm what effects would occur from early cannabis consumption.
All of the stances have their own evidence to support their claims. Like many other areas of cannabis, their evidence is insufficient and needs to be expanded on. This area will remain a controversial topic of discussion until more in-depth and extensive research has been done and confirmed a few times over.
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