Marijuana: Weighing the Long-Term Effects on Adolescent Brains vs. Legalization

Have You Had The Conversation?

Yes, that’s right, we are talking about the conversation that most parents discover they need to have with their adolescent children. And we’re not talking about the birds and the bees; we’re talking about drugs, particularly marijuana.  Why marijuana? Well, as time goes by more and more states are putting it to a vote, but more about that in just a bit.

So have you had to have the conversation? We asked this question of one of our associates and she recalled it was pretty awkward. In her situation her children knew in 1967 at 17 she went off to college in San Francisco! They also knew that she lived within walking distance to Haight-Ashbury.  But they were surprised to learn that the first time she tried marijuana she was 27. She was not a teen-ager, not even a young adult (and she is quick to add that at that time in California it was legal to possess less than an ounce, in your own domicile, for your own use).

The question adolescent children invariably ask is: “Did you ever smoke marijuana?” And every parent struggles with how to answer that question. Do you avoid a longer conversation and answer in the negative…or are you honest and inadvertently provide your children with “rights” to try marijuana.

These conversations can continue for years…

Interesting Marijuana Research Parents Should Share With Their Children

This past week The New York Times featured an article in their Education Life section: “This Is Your Brain on Drugs.”  It is a catchy headline for those of us who are old enough to remember the 1987 Public Service Announcement (PSA) created by the Partnership for a Drug Free America.  In case you are not familiar with the PSA, you can see it here.

The Times’ article was reporting on important new research about the long term effects marijuana use can have on the adolescent brain. The research is being conducted by scientists at Harvard and Northwestern University.  Dr. Jodi Gilman was the lead author and their study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience’s April 2014 issue:  Cannabis Use is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users.

The Study’s Parameters

  • 40 young adults participated in the research
  • Most were attending college in and around Boston
  • 50% had never used marijuana
  • 50% admitted to smoking marijuana from one to six years
  • None of the smokers exhibited signs of dependence
  • There were seven categorized as “light smokers”
  • Nine reported that they smoked three to five days per week
  • Four reported using marijuana on a daily basis

The Study’s Findings

  • Every smoker’s brain showed abnormalities in the volume, density and shape of the nucleus accumbens
  • Similar changes were noted in the amygdala

Dr. Hans Brieter, co-author from Northwestern University explains, the accumbens “is at the core of motivation, the core of pleasure and pain and every decision you make.”  Dr. Gilman offers regarding the amygdala, responsible for processing emotions, fear responses and memories: “The fact that we can see these structural effects in the brain could indicate that the effects of THC are longer lasting than we previously thought.” Gilman is committed to continue studying brain function and behavior.

Surely, the results from this very small study can be a conversation starter for medical and addiction treatment professionals, parents, families, teachers, and yes, even adolescents and young adults.

Now Back To The Boting Booth – Should Marijuana Be Legalized?

Our nation has just completed (for the most part) our midterm elections. Every two years registered voters are encouraged to go to the polls and vote to elect a new House of Representatives, a number of senators, some governors, and state and local representatives. At the same time, each state will have initiatives or propositions for their citizenry to decide.

This year a number of states considered whether or not marijuana should be made legal or offered for medicinal purposes only.  A variety of different ballots measures were presented in Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Florida, California, Washington D.C.,  New Jersey, New Mexico,  and the U.S. Territory of Guam.

If you want to read some interesting articles of how these ballot measures were determined, see the links below:

Voters Change Marijuana Policy In 2014 Midterms

Pot at the Polls: Oregon, Alaska Cast Pivotal Votes on Legal Marijuana

Guam passes Medical Marijuana Law

What’s next for the marijuana movement?

Here at Family Recovery Specialists we have written often about the dangers of legalizing marijuana.  Take the time to review marijuana research. Being informed and making good decisions are strategic for protecting one’s physical, mental and behavioral health.

Tap to GET HELP NOW: (855) 251-0493