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  • POSTED DECEMBER 13, 2018
Cannabis is the type of drug that is so complex, researchers and physicians have only studied the tip of this medicinal iceberg. In light of the need for more research into its effects, what can be confusing to the public is how the teen brain reacts to cannabis use, which we’ll break down in this comprehensive post.

Since the 1980s, several studies have posited that when adolescents or teens ingest cannabis, they could be harming their developing brain. A 2003 study found that increasing cannabis use was linked to a higher risk of teens dropping out of school, failure to enter university and failure to get a university degree. The study’s authors wrote: “Heavy cannabis use may lead to an ‘amotivational syndrome’ that may encourage decreased participation in education.”1

More recent studies echo those early findings: A June 2018 report concluded there was “educed cognitive functioning in adolescents and young adults who reported frequent cannabis use.”2 

But not all cannabis products are created equal. If a teenager (or even child) needs medical cannabis, they may be ingesting more CBD than what is included in black-market cannabis, due to licensed producers tailoring several strains to medicinal users.

“Research has shown that CBD can potentially attenuate some of the harmful effects of THC, and some studies have even shown that CBD may be beneficial for the brain as it has neuroprotective properties,” Bryan Hendin of Apollo Cannabis Research Clinic, recently told reporters.3

Also, making the rounds online this year was a study that suggested the negative long-term impacts of cannabis might not be as consequential as we used to think. The meta-analysis, published in JAMA Psychiatry, concluded that heavy cannabis users who laid off the drug for about 72 hours didn’t face a lingering cognitive effect. Those effects faded within three days.4

Researchers told Newsweek that previous analyses of cannabis use among youth “may have overstated the magnitude and persistence of cognitive deficits associated with use.”5 Worth noting is the high rate of depression among Canadian teens, with around 11 percent of Canadian youth between 15 and 24 reporting depression-like symptoms. Some teens turn to cannabis to help alleviate those symptoms, which experts say can be very harmful.


“There will always be that one person who will be able to say that cannabis made their depression better but generally it is not a drug I would choose to recommend to treat depression with based on my research,” says Lucy Troup, of the University of the West of Scotland’s Strategic Hub for Psychology, Social Work, Health Behaviours and Addictions, in an interview.6 Her deep research into the link between cannabis use and depression has encouraged her to stress that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest cannabis can help those afflicted with depression.

She adds: “I think cannabis a drug that should be avoided by the developing brain, but then show me a drug that does not have that tag associated with it. However, it has a clear role to play in a medical application. We just need to do a great deal more research to work out exactly what it can and cannot do.” There are extensive brain changes that happen during the teenage years, making this period of development very sensitive.  Until science explores the use of cannabis as a treatment for this age group, it is best to caution teens against the use of this drug. 

References: 
1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2003.00573.x
2. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2678214?redirect=true
3. https://globalnews.ca/news/4157240/marijuana-teenagers-effects-study/
4. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2678214
5. https://www.newsweek.com/weed-affects-teen-brain-marijuana-study-895407
6. Interview conducted Sunday August 26, 2018. To verify quotes, email Lucy at Lucy.Troup@uws.ac.uk
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