February 26, 2020

The Impact of First-Time Marijuana Use

Perhaps reflecting society’s changing attitudes, teen marijuana use is on the rise. Approximately 6% of American 12th-graders admit to smoking marijuana daily –THREE TIMES the rate over the last decade. 6 out of 10 high school seniors believe the drug to be safe.

Available research shows they are wrong.

Arizona State University Professor Madeline Meier, who led a Duke University study comparing the IQs of marijuana users and non-users, says, “We found that people who began using marijuana in their teenage years and then continued to use marijuana for many years lost about 8 IQ points from childhood to adulthood, whereas those who never used marijuana did not lose any IQ points.”

What’s more, the younger the person was at the initiation of use and the heavier their usage, the greater their IQ loss was. Teenagers who regularly use marijuana are also at higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder later on in life.

But while there is ample research demonstrating the profound negative impact that chronic marijuana use has on the still-developing teenage brain, an upcoming study could help scientists learn more about how first-time marijuana use could affect the teenage brain.

We don’t really know what happens to a first-time user – we don’t know if one use will change the brain and make you more vulnerable to taking other drugs, for example.”

~Susan Weiss, director of the Division of Extramural Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse

A new collaborative effort funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted by researchers from the National Cancer Institute, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse has the aim of determining whether marijuana is a causal factor for future substance abuse or if it is an indicator of vulnerability.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study will be held at 21 different research facilities throughout America. 10,000 children ages 9 or 10 will be followed over a 10-year period. At two-year intervals, scientists will:

  • Take MRI scans of the children’s brains
  • Take samples of the children’s saliva and other such biospecimens for genetic analysis
  • Conduct interviews
  • Administer cognitive tests

Every three to six months after the testing, additional follow-up will be scheduled as needed. Changes in cognition, behavior, or brain structure will be tracked, and, over time, researchers hope to create a “map” that is shaped by genetics, societal/peer pressure, and personal behaviors.

Dr. Weiss says, “By having a very large number of participants, we hope to be able to ask a lot of these questions that right now, we don’t have answers to.”

If you are the parent of an adolescent or teenager who is experimenting with or abusing marijuana or any other substance, you are probably looking for answers, too. For over 35 years, Teensavers Treatment Centers have offered recovery services for youth struggling with substance abuse and/or emotional disorders.

By using the latest and most accepted evidence-based treatment protocols, the clinical staff at Teensavers can help both your child and your family return to the sanity and safety of a life free from drugs and alcohol.

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