Fresh research casts troubling light on adolescents and relaxing marijuana laws.
A newly released scientific studies showing that marijuana use among adolescents and teens causes memory loss, impairs learning, creates new driving risks and leads to addictions are causing researchers to urge caution as states such as Florida consider ballot measures to relax cannabis laws. The research reports illustrating the serious impacts of marijuana use on young brains and their development are casting a harsh light on what Florida could face among its youth if voters approve Amendment 2 on the November ballot.
While proponents portray the amendment as a narrow approval on the use of “medical marijuana” by people who are suffering from painful and debilitating illnesses, state analyses estimate that some 250,000 Floridians could be designated as “caregivers” with the authority to obtain and dispense the drug, making it much more likely it will wind up in the hands of children.
And that’s a concern to researchers who have been studying the effects of marijuana on adolescents and teens.
A Northwestern University study released in December found “memory-related structures in their brains appeared to shrink and collapse inward, possibly reflecting a decrease in neurons.” Lead study author Matthew Smith said, “With the movement to decriminalize marijuana, we need more research to understand its effect on the brain.”
This, and another study released in June, should give Floridians—particularly those with school-age children—serious pause about supporting Amendment 2, which will allow marijuana to be sold widely across Florida. The indisputable experience of other states that have passed similar measures is that access and use by adolescents and teenagers increase tremendously following passage.
“Regulations to isolate youth from marijuana will work no better than tobacco or alcohol regulations,” said Bertha K Madras, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Susceptibility to addiction is not the only serious risk adolescents face if they use marijuana; others, including altered brain structure, compromised school achievement, poorer memory, decreased motivation, reduced IQ, and elevated risk for developing psychosis, are just as disconcerting.”
In June, the Food and Drug Administration reminded Americans that the agency has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any indication. At the same time, the New England Journal of Medicine published a comprehensive study by three researchers entitled Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use. It asserts “the evidence clearly indicates that long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction. Indeed, approximately 9% of those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted. The number goes up to about 1 in 6 among those who start using marijuana as teenagers….” The study further notes:
- There is an association between frequent use of marijuana from adolescence into adulthood and significant declines in IQ.
- Adults who smoked marijuana regularly during adolescence have impaired neural connectivity (fewer fibers) in specific brain regions.
- Failure to learn at school, even for short or sporadic periods, will interfere with the subsequent capacity to achieve increasingly challenging educational goals, a finding that may also explain the association between regular marijuana use and poor grades.
- Marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently reported in connection with impaired driving and accidents, including fatal accidents.
The Northwestern University study found similar problems with teens who regularly used marijuana: “The brain abnormalities and memory problems were observed during the individuals’ early twenties, two years after they stopped smoking marijuana, which could indicate the long-term effects of chronic use.
In a New York Times opinion piece, T. M. Luhrmann, professor of anthropology at Stanford, recapped studies going back to 1987 on marijuana’s potentially dangerous effects on those with schizophrenia She notes that a 2014 psychiatric overview argued that cannabis could not only lead to passing paranoid and hallucinatory experiences, but to develop into a condition that looks like schizophrenia.
“While arguments for compassion certainly resonate, we have got to protect our kids from the serious consequences that we are just beginning to understand,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of Drug Free America. “Let’s step back, take a breath, and look for ways we can help deliver scientifically valid relief to those with truly debilitating illnesses rather than a toxic weed,” said Fay.
The Florida Department of Health predicts 1,800 marijuana shops will be opened to sell marijuana under Amendment 2, as presently structured. This greater ease of access and accompanying destigmatization has led to greater use of marijuana among youths in Colorado and California after approval of medical marijuana initiatives.
Drug Free America Foundation, Inc. is a national and international drug policy organization promoting effective and sound drug policies, education and prevention. For more information on Drug Free America Foundation, please visit www.dfaf.org, follow DFAF on Twitter @DrugFreeAmerica and like DFAF on Facebook.
The Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot coalition is a collective effort of more than 100 local and state organizations to educate Floridians on the dangers of marijuana. From law enforcement to substance abuse groups, the coalition is working statewide to ensure public safety and the future of our youth.