How Marijuana Affects the Teenage Brain

As states continue to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, it’s use is increasingly being seen as no big deal. In North Carolina, marijuana possession is mostly decriminalized. Possessing less than half an ounce carries a maximum fine of $200. While marijuana is used to treat a variety of conditions, there are still concerns about its effects. There is particular reservation surrounding the effect of marijuana on teenage brains which are still developing. Some researchers have found that adolescents’ brains may suffer lasting damage.

Marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance in the country and its use is widespread among young people. Many teens don’t even think about it as a drug and they find it affordable and easily accessible. About one in eight adolescents between 12 and 17 reported using marijuana over a one-year period. This is according to research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Agency published in 2019. That study also showed that as many as 44 percent of 12th graders have used cannabis at some point in their lifetime. If you have a teenager or pre-teen, you need to know about the risks.

Effect of Marijuana on the Brain

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. It is the compound that creates the high that users seek. When an individual uses marijuana, THC passes from the lungs or digestive tract to the bloodstream. The blood then transports the THC to the brain where it works on certain cannabinoid receptors.

These receptors are mainly located in the areas of the brain associated with memory, coordination, concentration, pleasure, and sensory perception. Marijuana use can, therefore, affect learning, memory, and attention. These effects can last longer than the high.

While adults may experience the effects of marijuana use for several days, teenagers can suffer long-term effects. The human brain doesn’t fully develop until the mid to early-20s.  The adolescent brain is especially sensitive to exposure to drugs and marijuana changes how connections are formed in the brain.

Studies have shown that marijuana use during the teenage years is associated with reduced cognitive function. One piece of research showed that teens who regularly use marijuana lose about 5.8 IQ points by adulthood. Another study found that marijuana has a greater effect on cognitive development than alcohol. In addition, researchers have identified other long-term risks including:

  • Heart attack and lung cancer
  • Respiratory issues
  • Problems with child development both during and after pregnancy
  • Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome – a condition characterized severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration

Finding Out Whether Your Teen Uses Marijuana

You’ll want to prevent your adolescent from developing the problems associated with marijuana use and abuse. To do so, you need to know the signs that they’re using or abusing this illicit drug. Behavioral change is one of the biggest indicators of drug use. However, not all changes in behavior are due to drugs. Your adolescent may experience mood swings, show decreased interest in school and other activities, and even appear different. There may also be drug paraphernalia in their room or bag. Look for rolling papers, baggies, and pipes with marijuana residue.

If your teen is high, they may:

  • Have bloodshot eyes
  • Be paranoid or anxious
  • Be giddy or tired
  • Have the munchies
  • Display unusual laziness

Getting Help for a Teenager Who is Abusing Marijuana

If you suspect your pre-teen or teen is abusing marijuana, you need to seek professional help. Even though you want what’s best for them, you may not have the knowledge and skills to help them. People who misuse drugs can’t and often shouldn’t stop suddenly. Furthermore, there may be underlying issues that need to be addressed.

A treatment plan designed by a professional will addressed your teen’s unique problems. If there are medical, mental or social issues, these will be taken into consideration. Many people with drug use disorders also have mental health problems and both can be treated at the same time.

When you consult a professional, they will recommend the best treatment approach. Outpatient programs are convenient since they allow teens to remain in school. However, depending on the nature of the problem, some benefit more from inpatient treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and family counseling can help teens to break free from drug use.

Let Asheville Recovery Center Help You and Your Teen

You don’t have to deal with your adolescent or teenager’s drug use alone. At Asheville Recovery Center, we provide you will all the information you need to help your teen. We offer a range of treatment options that can be customized to each patient. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist.

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