By Dr. Minal Mistry, Psychiatrist
Marijuana, derived from the Cannabis plant, is also known as “cannabis,” “weed,” “pot,” “ganja” and a variety of other slang terms. It is one of the oldest substances known to have psychoactive effects on our brains. However, with the growing use of marijuana in the general population, increased trends of the legalization of marijuana in United States of America (USA) with similar proposals being made in Canada, and the increased availability of prescribed medical marijuana, should marijuana consumption in younger people be placed under the microscope for further scrutiny?
Marijuana and Psychosis?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main component that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the body. Marijuana can cause a variety of subjective effects which may be positive, such as feeling relaxed, or negative effects such as lethargy, cognitive problems, anxiety or psychotic symptoms. Psychotic symptoms include hallucinations where you may hear or see things where nothing is there, or delusions in which you may believe things that are not true.
One of the major concerns is that marijuana use can lead to the development of psychotic conditions such as Schizophrenia. Although there are conflicting views about the extent to which marijuana truly causes a clinical psychosis in adults, we know that the risk of a clinical psychosis is greater if marijuana is used in adolescence as the developing brain is more sensitive to these psychoactive substances.
However, we now have a new concern about marijuana use in adolescence causing a persistent subclinical psychosis i.e. prolonged psychotic symptoms that are less severe and/or not reaching the threshold for a full diagnosis.
Subclinical psychotic symptoms and marijuana use
New research by Jordan Bechtold, PhD, at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that every year of regular marijuana use led to a 21% rise in subclinical psychotic symptoms.
There were three main messages conveyed by this research:
Marijuana and the adolescent brain
Dangers of marijuana use may be less of an issue in the older mature brain. The young adolescent developing brain is a different matter. Compared to a fully developed adult brain, an adolescent’s brain may be more vulnerable to sustained damage. This is an issue that needs to be taken into account with the proposed legalization of marijuana, especially on age limits (just as we have age limits with the use of alcohol and nicotine). These concerns about marijuana are supported by experts who say:
2. Regarding marijuana use: “Starting young and using frequently may disrupt brain development.”Susan Weiss, PhD, director of the division of extramural research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The latest research by Bechtold and colleagues magnifies these views. We ought to be looking more closely at this area and educating young people further about the risks.
Cite this article as:
Minal Mistry(2016)New dangers of adolescent marijuana use. The Beautiful Space-A Journal of Mind, Art and Poetry. October 2016: TBSB104
Please check author names highlighted with each article.
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