Regardless of personal beliefs on marijuana legalization, many can agree one thing — its ease of access is on the rise, which is impacting the frequency of use.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, teen marijuana use is at its highest in 30 years and teens are now more likely to use marijuana than tobacco.
In 2011, a national study showed that one in eight eighth-graders, one in four high school sophomores, and one in three seniors have used marijuana in the past year.
The impact from increased use and access is part of a larger discussion on the social and medical impacts of marijuana use, which includes some studies that have found marijuana to have no impact on the brain, while other experts have decried its impact on social function, ability and addiction.
A national poll revealed that 58 percent of Americans are in favor of legalization, which raises concerns that acceptability leads to a perception of harmlessness.
Jeff Jones, clinical director of Community Recovery Resources in Grass Valley, said legalization does not change marijuana’s effects or the way treatment is addressed.
“Whether or not marijuana is legalized, it would not change the abuse potential or the addictive nature of the substance, nor would it change the way we provide prevention and treatment services,” Jones said.
Research at the University of Montreal and New York’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai declared such access the cause for its widespread use in teenagers, in particular.
The findings from the study were published in sciencedaily.com.
The study included that correlation does not necessarily equal causation in reference to marijuana use and resulting behavior, but studies show the areas of the brain affected by marijuana use, which can affect personality development.
“Although it is difficult to confirm in all certainty a causal link between drug consumption and the resulting behavior, the researchers note that rat models enable scientists to explore and directly observe the same chemical reactions that happen in human brains,” the article states.
The article also states that cannabis interacts with the human brain through cannabinoid receptors, which are situated in the areas of the brain that govern learning and management of rewards, motivated behavior, decision-making, habit formation and motor function, and that scientists believe that the cannabis consumption at this time greatly influences the way these parts of the user’s personality develop.
The article also reported just one in four teenage cannabis users will develop an abusive or dependent relationship with the drug, suggesting that specific genetic and behavioral factors influence the likelihood that the drug use will continue.
The connection to genetic and behavioral predisposition has led researchers in the study to focus less on politics and more on those at risk of developing harmful behaviors from marijuana use.
“Identifying these vulnerable adolescents, including through genetic or psychological screening, may be critical for prevention and early intervention of addiction and psychiatric disorders related to cannabis use,” said University of Montreal Professor Didier Jutras-Aswad stated in the article.
”The objective is not to fuel the debate about whether cannabis is good or bad, but instead to identify those individuals who might most suffer from its deleterious effects and provide adequate measures to prevent this risk.’”
According to a long-term Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development study published on medicalxpress.com, the brain is still forming and may be more vulnerable to damage before age 18.
The study, led by psychologists Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, followed a group of 1,037 children born in 1972-73 in Dunedin, New Zealand, from birth to age 38.
Out of the group, about five percent were considered marijuana-dependent, or using more than once a week before the age of 18.
At the age of 38, all study participants were given multiple psychological tests to assess memory, processing speed, reasoning and visual processing.
The people who used pot persistently as teens scored significantly worse on most of the tests.
Friends and relatives of persistent cannabis users also confirmed that the persistent users exhibited attention and memory problems, such as losing focus and forgetting to do tasks.
The decline in IQ among persistent cannabis users could not be explained by alcohol or other drug use, or less education, said Moffitt.
Local physician Christina Lasich published an article about the uncommonly asked questions about marijuana use online at ChronicPainConnection.com in 2012. She said marijuana has been clearly documented to change the brain, particularly the reward system of the brain, which is very similar to what is found in those with opioid chemical dependency/addiction and alcoholism.
“The statistics show that 9 percent of those who initially start using marijuana will develop a dependency, and teenagers are twice as likely to develop a marijuana use disorder,” Lasich reported. She also cited the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal from anxiety and depressed mood to sleeplessness and headaches, and that treatment for withdrawal symptoms as though they are disease-related is problematic.
“That is like giving an alcoholic more alcohol to treat the alcohol withdrawal syndrome or like giving a smoker permission to keep smoking in order to prevent withdrawals,” she said. “With better recognition of marijuana withdrawal syndrome, professionals are hoping that more people will seek treatment for marijuana dependency and addiction.”
Lasich also cited marijuana’s impact in school and its link with increased drop-out rates, lower grade point averages and failure to achieve degrees.
“Marijuana’s impact in the schools is due to marijuana’s impact on the brain’s ability to remember and learn,” she said.
“The footprint left by marijuana on a child’s brain looks more like a gigantic boot print.”
Whether or not marijuana will be legalized in California, there is still much to learn.
“Whatever happens with respect to legalization of marijuana, we would do well in understanding the research from both sides, and most importantly, the negative effects on the development of the adolescent brain,” said Warren Daniels, CEO of Community Recovery Resources. “The importance of the latter should be highly regarded in our decisions.
“Lastly, this issue should not be an ‘us and them,’ but more what is best for our community as a whole.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.