A recent study found weed affecting the cognitive health of adolescents more than alcohol does. It also found those unwanted effects persisting even after they stop using it. With nine states legalizing marijuana already, as well as the District of Columbia, recreational use is increasingly common. However, researchers are cautious as they study its effects on the developing brain.
The long-term repercussions of weed on the adolescent brain have long been a subject of intense debate, even controversy, as political factions war each other. Now, researchers at the University of Montreal have conclusive evidence that frequent consumption, particularly among those who start early in life, is much more likely to stagnate or otherwise restrict their thinking capacity.
Studying Long-Term Response to Early Weed Use
Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the study analyzed 3,800 teenagers over four years, all attending schools in the Montreal area and all joining the study at 13-years old. The teenagers provided the research team with yearly reports on how often they used pot and booze, and they participated in cognitive tests to measure perceptual reasoning, recall, inhibition, and short-term memory.
In return, the team assured participants that teachers and parents would not find out about their pot and alcohol habits, provided they did not pose risk to life. In conclusion, the study showed marijuana affecting the long-term cognitive ability of teenagers much more than alcohol does. Furthermore, results indicate no cognitive improvement even after adolescents quit.
What Other Studies Say
This study is not the first to find potential cognitive harm in early marijuana use. In fact, other studies concur. One such study, published in June in JAMA Psychiatry, saw J. Cobb Scott, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, and his team of researchers analyzing 69 previous studies conducted on young pot consumers.
In comparison to non-users, this particular analysis found those using weed often more likely to score slightly lower on memory tests. They also have more difficulty retaining new information. Additionally, frequent users also score lower on high-level thinking tests, including information processing and problem-solving. Despite this, there is not enough evidence to draw definitive conclusions.
Further Research Necessary
Scientists say it is crucial to conduct more research to find out exactly how and why early weed use affects the brain. In speaking to NBC News, lead author of the Canadian study and psychiatry professor at the University of Montreal, Patricia Conrad, said, “This study focuses on the neuropsychological effects of cannabis. We it is important because it is linked to how someone functions in life.”
According to Conrad, “Cannabis causes cognitive impairment and delayed cognitive development in adolescents. Our study showed that early marijuana use has a lasting effect on cognitive ability.” Of equal concern, despite more widespread awareness, are the long-term social consequences of using cannabis during formative adolescent years.
Back in 2014, amid much controversy, The Lancet Psychiatry reported that pot-toking teens who use daily are 60 percent less likely to finish high school or college than their non-using counterparts are. They also have a seven-times greater risk of attempting suicide. Additionally, the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published another important study back in 2017.
The study, led by Josiane Bourque and the team at the University of Montreal, indicated that depression might be responsible for the associated link found between heavy cannabis use and psychosis. Then, the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens released data showing roughly 5.9 percent of 12th graders using weed every single day during 2017, an increase from 5.1 percent just a decade ago in 2007.
Legalization, although a crucial human right, has its downsides. It will expose children to a laxer attitude toward weed use. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics opposed both medical and recreational cannabis use in children in a lengthy report. In it, leading scientists emphasized the need to be vigilant about the developing adolescent brain, particularly with increasingly lax views and laws on weed use.
All studies showing negative long-term effects of pot use in teens warn against heavy use. Moderation is paramount, especially when the brain is developing, as opposed to abstaining. As Conrad explained, “There is still significant cognitive development in the teen years, so I would recommend that parents tell their kids to delay or limit use, if possible.” As always, education leads the path to prevention.