Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

How Marijuana Affects a Teen’s Developing Brain

It’s no secret that cannabis is one of the most commonly abused substances among today’s teen. While cannabis or marijuana is usually smoked by teens, edible incarnations are now readily available by way of legalization in many states, including California, and are finding their way into the hands of teens. Cookies, candies, beverages, and more are all there for the taking. Worse yet are distillates or concentrated doses of super high-potency cannabis made by extracting THC, the active ingredient in the drug, using solvents like butane, resulting in sticky oils commonly referred to as wax, shatter, budder, and BTO (butane hash oil). And in states such as Colorado, teens are under assault by companies targeting them with aggressive advertising across every media. Even celebrity endorsements by stars like Snoop Dog and Willie Nelson are commonplace.

“I Want to Take You Hiiiiiiigher.”

marijuana affects on teen brain

Flyer counter to today’s high-octane pot, many parents believe that marijuana use among teens is relatively harmless, a “rite of passage”. That’s troubling, as today’s marijuana strands have a much higher concentration of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), as compared to the versions available in the 1970s or 80s. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that, on average, today’s marijuana contains at least 10% THC. Edibles can feature concentrations in excess of 30%-40%. In his book, Weed, Inc.: The Truth About THC, the Pot Lobby, and the Commercial Marijuana Industry, author Ben Cort writes, “We have learned how to breed marijuana into what we want: a drug that gets us higher. THC content had risen to average over 12% nationwide back in 2014 resulting in a much more potent drug. In Colorado, [where recreational cannabis is now legal] a 12% sample would be very hard to find, as we are seeing plants pushing past 40% today.” Bluntly put – no pun intended – this ain’t your father’s marijuana.

A study published in the journal Clinical EEG and Neuroscience reported that marijuana use negatively impacts:

  • Brain structure volume
  • Quality of white matter
  • Ability to perform cognitive function

Teen Brain Development

Unlike adults, the teen brain is actively developing until the mid-20s. Drinking and drug use during this period can have a detrimental impact, affecting a teen’s ability to progress and grow on many fronts, including:

  • Emotional development
  • Academic retention
  • Social interactions

How does this happen? The THC in marijuana affects the way that sensory information is processed by the hippocampus, part of the limbic system in the brain that controls learning and memory as well as the combination of sensory experiences with emotion and motivation. By suppressing the neurons in the hippocampus, THC causes learned behaviors to deteriorate; thus the teen’s ability to handle stimuli productively is stunted.

Mental Health Effects

Marijuana’s lasting effects on the brain impact both physical and mental health in teens. The Rhode Island state government reports that teen mental health can be impacted by frequent use of the drug in the following ways:

  • Doubles the risk of developing symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Three times as likely to have suicidal thoughts as compared to peers who do not smoke marijuana
  • Increased risk of developing schizophrenia in later teen years

Why is mental and emotional development so hindered by marijuana use? In teens, the area of the brain responsible for emotion and memory is very well developed, but the area of the brain dedicated to judgment still needs time to mature. Marijuana use stops this growth, and those emotional highs and lows of the teen years can become overwhelming, resulting in mental health issues.

Addressing Marijuana Use in Teen Boys

Marijuana is one of the most common drugs of abuse by teens and is therefore one of the most commonly cited reasons for drug rehab among teenage patients. If your son is using marijuana – even on an “experimental” level – don’t ignore the situation or simply hope it will pass. Action taken by parents is effective and can drastically impact whether or not their children suffer the consequences of chronic drug abuse and addiction.

At Muir Wood, we provide a structured, safe teen-specific rehabilitation program for boys that focuses on building their confidence and helping them to overcome impulse behaviors, co-occurring mental health and behavioral issues, and other problems that may be holding them back. Contact us now to find out more.