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Mental Health Impact of Marijuana (Cannabis) on the Young Adult Brain

While there has been much political capital spent on the medical benefits of cannabis, what tends to get buried is the very real negative impact of this drug. In addition to marijuana or cannabis use for medicinal purposes there is also a very big push for its recreational use—which presents a number of very real concerns.

Not only is the issue of cannabis highly political, but it is also very emotional, which drives us to ignore many of the negative results of cannabis use. While there are many opinions on this highly political and emotional issue, we simply cannot ignore the very real danger of cannabis use especially among teenagers and young adults.

Prior to age 25, the human brain is very different than those older than 25. Cannabis use has a tremendous negative impact on the brain in early years. Brain systems related to mood regulation, the ability to organize thoughts, and execute plans are highly impacted by cannabis use. When these brain functions are impacted it effects a person’s ability to function later in life as a responsible adult. Cannabis disrupts the normal brain development in teens and young adults.

The most recent study comes from Lancet Psychiatry (Lancet is one of the oldest peer reviewed medical journals in the world, founded in England in 1823). In July 2022 Lancet published one of the most peer-reviewed research articles on cannabis use called, Association of Cannabis Potency with Mental Ill Health and Addiction: A Systematic Review.

Lancet reviewed more than 4,000 studies related to early use of cannabis and the later development of psychosis. While this review points out many dangerous outcomes of cannabis use in young adults, some of the most serious points reveal a strong link between cannabis use and the increased likelihood of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia by up to four times. A young person is four times more likely to develop serious mental illnesses by using cannabis on a regular basis.

This is not just the opinion of Lancet, but of over 4,000 medical research papers on this topic. Additionally, Dr. Andrew Huberman, neuroscientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine states that, “the risk of psychosis from cannabis is going up and up as stronger strains of cannabis and THC are developed. We must reduce the cannabis use to zero among teens and young adults.” Dr. Huberman is not an anti-marijuana scientist, but he simply recognizes the great dangers of cannabis use among our younger population.

This is not a popular message in a culture that appears to be pushing for the legalization of cannabis or marijuana at all levels. The emotions and politicization of this topic tend to drown out rational thinking and at great peril to our teens and young adults.

Let’s not forget that cannabis’ greatest popularity rests in the age group of people 16-24 years old. This is the group that needs to be at zero cannabis use. For other reasons that I will address at a separate time, cannabis use among all ages is still dangerous for everyone.

It is easy to fall into the “live and let live” philosophy with regards to marijuana or cannabis because of the current cultural messaging, but to do so is not doing our young people any favors. They are already growing up in a world of great confusion, broken families, and vast amounts of information at their fingertips that is, for the most part, fictional. We must be armed to push back against the political and emotional imprudence with some common sense and scientific facts.

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