Teen Brains at Risk as Marijuana Use Rises

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According to a new federal report, more American high school students are smoking marijuana than in past years. Health officials are concerned, and say that using marijuana during the teen years is especially dangerous because still-developing adolescent brains are more vulnerable to changes brought on by smoking.

The rise in high school marijuana-smokers is concerning for a few reasons. First, the marijuana in high schools now isn't the same pot of yesteryear. Marijuana today has three times the amount of THC (pot’s psychoactive ingredient) compared to the early 1990s. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shared concern that the increased use and strength could increase the amount of car accidents and hurt school performance. “What is most worrisome is that we’re seeing high levels of everyday use of Marijuana among teenagers.... [which] is the type [of use] most likely to have negative effects on brain function and performance.”

Also of concern, a recent study has found that smoking during the teen years can cause lasting brain changes. Young adults who smoked every day for around three years were found to have brain differences in areas that help short-term memory, compared to those who had never smoked before. Even though the study can’t determine whether the abnormalities were there before participants began smoking, researchers found that the younger a teen began smoking, the greater the changes.

These findings are worrisome, especially because 60 percent of high school seniors said they do not see regular marijuana smoking as harmful, which is up about 5% from last year. More worrisome is what some teens consider a legal alternative. We have already blogged about the dangers of synthetic marijuana, but keep a look out for our full-length feature article about this extremely dangerous trend in the April issue of Choices. Discuss with your teens and share your thoughts in the comments section below!