Marijuana abuse in teens is a concerning topic for all, whether you support legalization of the plant or oppose it. While marijuana creates few risks for adult users, it has a different impact on the brain of teens, which is still growing and developing.
Legal marijuana doesn’t appear to trigger more cannabis use in teens, but research shows that some concern is warranted. A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests teen brains are more vulnerable to marijuana and opioid addiction, making these users more likely to get hooked on drugs when compared to young adults.
Instead of limiting the study to nicotine, alcohol, and cannabis, like previous studies of this type, researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse looked for a wide variety of drug use, such as painkillers, cigarettes, tranquilizers, stimulants, marijuana, alcohol and more. They specifically studied two groups of young people: ages 12 to 17 and 18 to 25.
Overall, the younger the subjects were, the more likely it was for them to grow a dependency on the substance. When comparing marijuana statistics, researchers noted that teens were 11% more likely to develop an addiction when compared to young adults, who came in at only 6%. Within three years of their initial use of the drug, 20% of adolescents were more likely to grow dependent on it. Young adults didn’t report this same behavior.
While it’s possible that people with a greater predisposition for drug addiction seek out these experiences from a young age, one of the senior authors of the study, Dr. Nora Volkow, told the New York Times that cannabis and other drugs are likely to have an impact on a developing brain and that drugs like cannabis are more likely to alter synaptic connections in younger brains, leading to stronger memories of pleasure and reward.
Another study suggests that while cannabis provides anxiety relief for adults, it might create the opposite effect in teens. It found that young users with cannabis abuse disorder had high levels of TPSO, a brain protein that’s been linked with depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and brain inflammation. While researchers were adamant that results don’t immediately link cannabis with anxiety in teens, they recommend more research to be conducted.
As marijuana becomes legalized in more and more states, the role of teen drug use continues to be worth discussing. But, while cannabis use shouldn’t be encouraged in teens, marijuana programs across the country could make it more difficult for teens to access these drugs. Legal marijuana is likely to limit black market marijuana, which tends to be lower quality and easier to access.