The question of whether teenage marijuana use is risky has long been debated. The main argument against it is that teens are more likely to get hooked on marijuana than their college-aged or older adult counterparts.
In the past, the evidence supporting this argument was lacking.
But a new study conducted by a team of scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published in JAMA Pediatrics gives a clearer picture of how adolescent brains respond to cannabis.
And their findings were a bit disheartening.
The Details of the Study
This specific study wasn’t looking at just marijuana. It analyzed the effects of a host of different drugs that included alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, stimulants, opioid painkillers, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and tranquilizers.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll look solely at the marijuana component.
Studying data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (an annual study which tracks substance use and mental health issues among Americans) researchers took a look at two age groups. The first was adolescents aged between 12 and 17. The second was young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.
About 50% of young adults had tried cannabis, while only 15% of adolescents said they’d dabbled in it.
And what did the study find?
Teenage Marijuana Use Is Risky
The researchers found that 6.4% of young adults became addicted to marijuana within a year of first trying it. The number for adolescents was 11%. By the three-year mark, 20% of adolescents had become dependent, which was nearly double the number of young adults.
Advocates for teenagers using marijuana typically argue that younger people who have a predisposition to developing an addiction are more likely to engage in drug-seeking behavior. Yet, one area of study that’s been more recently explored is the impact of cannabis on adolescent brains that are still developing.
Heavy Usage + Higher THC Content = Trouble
Marijuana is obviously not even close to being as addictive as opioids or hard drugs. And despite the warnings of the 1930s, it is NOT a gateway to these drugs.
And just because teenagers are using marijuana, it doesn’t mean they’re doomed to addiction. What does need to be seriously considered though is the frequency of use and the increased potency found in today’s cannabis.
There is evidence that teenagers who frequently use high doses of today’s cannabis can experience uncontrollable vomiting, addiction, and even psychosis. And this could lead to a lifelong psychiatric disorder. One reason for this is the plasticity of their developing brains. Because their neurodevelopment is not complete, drugs like cannabis can alter synaptic connections that lead to more intense connections to pleasure and reward.
If you smoked heavily as a teenager twenty (or more) years ago, you may be rolling your eyes. But it’s important to note that the potency of marijuana these days is far FAR stronger than what you were enjoying back in the day.
What’s worse, the levels of CBD have dropped. And studies show that less cannabis could make marijuana more addictive.
Potency Highly Unregulated
As late as 1995, the DEA was seizing cannabis samples whose average concentration of THC was around 4%. By 2017, it had rocketed to 17%. Seems like a big jump, but it’s nothing compared to what’s happening with cannabis manufacturers today.
Oils, edibles, waxes, crystals and shatter from some manufacturers comes in as high as 95%. And there is little to no regulation on the amounts of permissible THC.
Vermont and Connecticut are the only states that have placed caps on THC concentration at 30% for cannabis plant material, and 60% for everything else (except pre-filled cartridges). These numbers are still on the high side, and there’s not much evidence that they’re any safer.
At the end of the day, teenagers will be teenagers. We just feel it’s important that they (and their parents) know what they’re getting into.
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