Medical News Today (MNT) reports that marijuana (also known as cannabis) taken during adolescence may cause brain damage according to a recent study that shows how marijuana use affects brain systems that are not fully matured before the age of about 24 and could cause long lasting negative effects on a youth’s cognitive development, including activating schizophrenia.
Delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana. This mind-altering chemical provides most of the intoxicating effects of its use. Newly identified strains of cannabis contain higher concentrations of THC.
After exposing adolescent rodents to THC, scientists from the Western University in Ontario, Canada, identified long-term effects of THC on the adolescent brain. Experiments used a combination of behavioral and molecular analyses with in vivo neuronal electrophysiology. Long-term effects of THC exposure was measured and compared for both adolescents and adults.
Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 15% of 8th graders across the U.S. have tried marijuana, and more than 1% of them use it on a daily basis. This is a growing epidemic with marijuana use becoming more widespread among teenagers, on the heels of efforts across the country right now to legalize recreational and medical uses of the substance (photo).
Lead researcher, Dr. Steven Laviolette, PhD said, “Adolescence is a critical period of brain development, and the adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable. Health policy makers need to ensure that marijuana, especially marijuana strains with high THC levels, stays out of the hands of teenagers. In contrast, our findings suggest that adult use of marijuana does not pose substantial risk.”
Medical News Today reported in 2015 that skunk cannabis (a more potent form of cannabis with a stronger odor and higher levels of THC) “can damage brain structures, specifically in the part of the brain that aids communication between the right and left hemispheres.”
Despite marijuana’s preferred status for its tendency to induce relaxation and or euphoria, it can also cause severe anxiety, fearfulness, paranoid distrust, and panic. In high and potent doses, it can also acute psychosis (an effect attributed to altered brain structures), including hallucinations, delusions and personality disorders.
While mild effects are generally annoying and not long lasting, consistent use and increasing doses can cause severe and persistent psychotic disorders. Particularly, marijuana abuse can lead to schizophrenia, which is also associated with chronic sleep deprivation.
The research team observed behaviors common to schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders, such as impaired social interaction, decreased motivation and cognition, abnormal exploratory behaviors, high levels of anxiety, and cognitive disorganization – which is the “inability to filter out unnecessary information.” They also observed neuronal hyperactivity in the mesocorticolimbic dopamine (DA) pathway and a variety of molecular changes.
Several prefrontal cortical molecular pathways were also “profoundly altered.” These altered pathways are consistent effects seen in sub-cortical DAergic dysregulation, which is a known cerebral characteristic of schizophrenia. Brain activity under the influence of THC, produced substantial and persistent behavioral, neuronal, and molecular mutations.
Youths using cannabis may not be prepared for the debilitating side effects and challenges of living with a mental health disorder like schizophrenia. “The stigma surrounding schizophrenia seems to continue with statements like that of renowned research psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., who refers to schizophrenia in his book, “Surviving Schizophrenia: A Manual for Families, Patients, and Providers”, as the “Modern day leprosy…”