Teens and marijuana: sorting all the information

The third instalment in the series discussing legalizing marijuana focuses on marijuana and teens.

Here is the title of a research article published in the January edition of the journal Cerebral Cortex by researchers at Western University:  Adolescent Cannabinoid Exposure Induces a Persistent Sub-Cortical Hyper-Dopaminergic State and Associated Molecular Adaptations in the Prefrontal Cortex.

Now, if you’re like me and never read the journal, Cerebral Cortex, this title probably sounds like a strange foreign language.  In fact, I’m showing this as an example of the kind of research that is trying to determine the potential positive and negative effects of marijuana use on teen brains.

As the Canadian government moves towards legalizing marijuana one of the big concerns is going to be the potential impact on adolescents.

Both the previous Conservative government and the current Liberal government said they wanted to limit teens’ access to marijuana and protect them from marijuana’s risks.  The two governments had very different ideas about how this could be done, but that’s the topic for a different discussion.

What is important to realize is that quality research on the risks and/or benefits of marijuana use is relatively scarce, and the research that is being done that helps to shed some light on how marijuana may affect teens tends to be published in obscure specialist journals with intimidating titles like the one above.  Most people don’t access this kind of information.  What people might find when they look for information is sites on the Web, YouTube or Blogs.  Some of these sites may be very good and based in good research, while many are little more than personal opinion sites masquerading as expert testimony.  For the average person it can be very difficult to sort through.

At East Kootenay Addiction Services we routinely hear teens talking about a website they found which says marijuana is perfectly safe, while concerned parents talk about a site they found which says marijuana is the worst drug ever used.  ‘Seek and ye shall find’ could be the catch phrase for the Web, as you are bound to find a site that will affirm your beliefs.  So how to sort through all of this?  On our EKASS website we provide links to Canadian and International websites that we believe provide the best balanced information on substances and substance use.  Check these sites out as a good starting place for more accurate information.

As for the study I mentioned above –it found that giving heavy doses of marijuana to young rats created lasting behaviour and brain changes which resembled those found in people with schizophrenia.  They did not find these changes in adult rats exposed to marijuana.  The implication being that heavy marijuana use in teens may cause more significant damage than in adults (at least if you’re a rat).

In the next article I’ll talk more about some of the research findings of the potential impact on teens of marijuana use.

Submitted by Dean Nicholson, Executive DirectorEast Kootenay Addiction Services Society