Marijuana use and youth

Recent reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) sounds the alarm over increase in cognitive and behavioral harms that widespread cannabis use may unmask.

A clinical review by NIDA Director Nora Volkow, MD, points out that as legalization of the drug for recreational and medical use spreads, vulnerable populations, especially adolescents, are exposed to toxic effects of the drug.

“This is not a problem that is specific to marijuana,” Dr. Volkow explains. “Young brains and drugs shouldn’t mix. Period.”

Dr. Volkow goes on to say, “Young brains are engaged in a protracted period of “brain programming,” in which everything an adolescent does or is exposed to can affect the final architecture and network connectivity of the brain.”

“Drugs are powerful disruptors of brain programming because they can directly interfere with the process of neural pruning and interregional brain connectivity,” she added. In the short term, she said, “this kind of interference can negatively affect academic performance. However, long-term use can impair behavioral adaptability.”

Currently, four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska — as well as the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use among adults. Twenty-three states (to include our own state), plus the District of Columbia, also regulate cannabis use for medical purposes, without the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but with the other proven ingredients to treat certain specific diseases.

As a result of this rising tide of legalized marijuana, Dr. Volkow and colleagues believed a more focused and in-depth study of its use and consequences was urgently needed.

The investigators write, “Emerging evidence suggests that adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of cannabis use.” That’s really an understatement, as we have all been aware of this for many years.

Several studies, for example, have shown that individuals who use cannabis at an earlier age have greater neuropsychological impairment and that persistent use of cannabis from adolescence was associated with neuropsychological decline from the age of 13 to 38 years.

RI studies have also pointed to changes in neural activity among cannabis users, including inefficient processing during a working memory task.

“There are both preclinical and clinical evidence supporting the view that cannabis use is associated with an “amotivational state,” said Dr. Volkow. The term “cannabis amotivational syndrome” is distinguished by apathy and difficulty with concentration created primarily as a result of diminished brain chemicals, primarily Dopamine, that occurs with long-term or heavy cannabis use. Dr. Volkow also noted that “long-term, heavy cannabis use has been associated with underachievement in terms of educational pursuits. On the other hand, it is also likely that diminished motivation could impair learning as well, she adds, inasmuch as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, has been shown to disrupt reward-based learning.”

“Amotivation in chronic heavy users may also reflect the fact that cannabis itself has become a major motivator,” Dr. Volkow writes, “so other activities (eg. schoolwork) become demoted in the individual’s reward hierarchy.”

Dr. Volkow goes on to say, “Science has shown us that marijuana is not a benign drug. The morbidity and mortality from legal drugs is much greater than that for illegal drugs, not because the drugs are more dangerous but because their legal status makes them more accessible and a larger percentage of the population is exposed them on a regular basis. The current “normalization” movement presses on with complete disregard for the evidence of marijuana’s negative health consequences, and this bias is likely to erode our prevention efforts by decreasing the perception of harm and increasing use among young people, which is the population most vulnerable to the deleterious effects of regular marijuana use.”

An extremely extensive study of thousands of subjects by Dr. Bridget Grant, Ph.D., and colleagues of the National Institutes of Health, Laboratory of Epidemiology and Biometry; concluded that “The urgency of identifying and implementing effective prevention and treatment for marijuana use disorder. And with ongoing changes in the drug’s legal status at the state level and the shift in beliefs about the risks associated with its use, public education about the dangers associated with marijuana use will be increasingly important to address public beliefs that marijuana use is harmless.”

Studies on Cannabis, such as those conducted by NIDA researchers have been collaborated with thousands of scientific studies conducted by The National Institutes of Health and other independent organizations over the years. All of the studies conclude that there are a myriad of negative consequences resulting from the use of marijuana, and most vulnerable to these consequences are our youth experimenting and using cannabis; affecting their mental and physical health. I strongly urge parents and others in our community to go to the NIH/NIDA/NIAAA websites, read the facts about the use of cannabis, and impart them to our youth.

Until next time, Stay Healthy my Friends!