Marijuana At Risk Teens
August 27, 2013

Smoking Pot Particularly Dangerous For At-Risk Teens

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Last year’s legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington served to further fuel the debate over the health benefits versus dangers of pot. Though medical marijuana has long been prescribed for those with painful ailments, some believe the drug is being handed out too freely among dispensaries in Arizona, California, Colorado and other states where it has been legalized for medical use.

Researchers from the University of Montreal and New York's Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital now say use of the drug by teenagers could put them at risk for developing addictive behaviors. Rather than attempt to resolve the debate, the researchers say their findings show more study should be done to fully understand the medicinal merits of marijuana.

Professor Didier Jutras-Aswad of the University of Montreal and Yasmin Hurd, MD, PhD, of Mount Sinai say their research found the “gateway drug” phenomenon varies in teenagers. Some argue teenage marijuana use often leads to more harmful and addictive drugs.

After reviewing some 120 separate studies that analyzed the association between marijuana use and teenagers' brains, Jutras-Aswad said the link between pot and harder drugs does exist, but that it largely depends on the confluence of other factors, such as genetics, age, and the amount of marijuana smoked.

“When the first exposure occurs in younger versus older adolescents, the impact of cannabis seems to be worse in regard to many outcomes such as mental health, education attainment, delinquency and ability to conform to adult role,” explained Jutras-Aswad in a statement.

Though cautious about drawing any concrete conclusions regarding teenage marijuana use and later addiction to harder substances, the researchers do point to previous studies which indicated adolescent rat brains can become wired to crave the drug.

Jutras-Aswad and Dr. Hurd claim one in four teenagers who begin smoking pot at an early age run the risk of developing a dependency on the drug. Yet rather than blaming this on the chemical composition of marijuana, they say genetic and environmental factors largely influence a young person's potential addiction. In other words, if a teenager is already prone to dependency and is raised in a tumultuous environment, then they may be more inclined to keep smoking through their youth and adding on other addictions as they age.

“Individuals who will develop cannabis dependence generally report a temperament characterized by negative affect, aggressively and impulsivity, from an early age. Some of these traits are often exacerbated with years of cannabis use, which suggests users become trapped in a vicious cycle of self-medication, which in turn becomes a dependence” said Jutras-Aswad.

The researchers claim their work is important because many people have their first experience with the drug in their adolescent years and yet little has been done to understand the effects of marijuana on the teenage brain. Jutras-Aswad and Hurd say their research shows pot is not exactly “harmless” to the adolescent brain -particularly to those who are already predisposed to be vulnerable to addiction psychological conditions - but it also isn't likely the sole root cause of addictive behaviors.

“Continuing research should be performed to inform public policy in this area,” said Jutras-Aswad.

It is also worth noting that while this study claims marijuana may have harmful effects for teenagers predisposed to addictive behaviors and psychological disorders, other research has shown cannabis not only protects but heals the brain as well.