As more and more marijuana plants grow in our surrounding towns, so does the number of young adults smoking pot. Today, about one in every five young adults (younger than 30) smokes marijuana. Nearly one in a dozen smokes the drug on a daily basis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, daily marijuana use among young adults (aged 19-22) is the highest it’s been since the early 1980s.
It seems that every day, more people are accepting marijuana use as the norm. Each year, the public’s risk-perception of marijuana declines – less than 30 percent of Americans today see regular marijuana use as harmful. Ask a population of high school students how they feel towards the drug, and the majority will tell you that it’s totally safe.
As their concerns lessen, our concerns grow. Adolescents and young adults are using marijuana more regularly than in years past. Meanwhile, more emergency rooms, young adult drug rehab facilities, and close loved ones are seeing the drug’s adverse effects.
Turnbridge, along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and other treatment professionals, now call parents, educators, and other influential figures to the stand – it’s time we educate ourselves on marijuana’s effects. We ask everyone, both you and your children, particularly adolescents and young adults, to take a step back and ask honestly: Is marijuana bad for you? Is marijuana really that safe? What are the long-term effects of marijuana, and is there reason to worry?
Educating one another about the dangers of early and daily marijuana use is an effective way to reduce the impact of marijuana on our youth long-term. Below Turnbridge has detailed the risks of marijuana for early users, and the reasons why we are growing concerned:
1. Early marijuana use has been associated with the development of psychotic disorders.
Marijuana use in adolescence and young adulthood can induce psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, says new research. According to several different psychosis experts, the “marijuana-induced psychosis” concept is clear: Marijuana is a mind-altering substance that modifies brain structure. The high often comes with paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and seemingly “out-of-body” experiences. When used in the most critical period of brain development (ages 12 to 25), marijuana can modify the brain. It tempers with brain activity and overall brain progress. The parts of the brain affected are the same parts associated with mental illness.
As Turnbridge discussed in a recent article, early and daily marijuana use can lead to the early onset of mental illness in those that are already susceptible. But it can also lead to the development of mental illness in otherwise healthy individuals, according to Dr. Michael Birnbaum, a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Specifically, teens who smoke marijuana daily are at a threefold higher risk of developing disorders like schizophrenia down the road.
2. It has also been associated with lower IQs, inferior memory, and poor decision-making.
Time after time, studies have concluded that early marijuana use, up until a person’s mid-twenties, can have measurable effects on the brain and on cognitive performance. A 2013 study published in the Oxford University Press, for example, observed “cannabis-related shape differences” in the brain structure of marijuana smokers. That same study also found that marijuana users have a poorer working memory than non-smokers, a conclusion that is supported by other research.
One study, cited by a recent NPR article, discovered that adults who smoked marijuana in their earlier years lost about eight IQ points from adolescence to adulthood. Adults who never used marijuana did not lose any IQ points, and those who smoked on a daily basis saw the greatest drop. Those who experienced a drop in IQ did not see it lift after stopping marijuana use. These early users also did worse in tests of memory and decision-making than their non-using counterparts.
Research has also found that people who begin smoking marijuana during their late teens and young adult years have poorer visual search abilities, shorter attention spans, and worse reasoning and decision-making skills. Teen marijuana users are also five times more likely to drop out of high school.
3. Early marijuana use can lead to more severe drug abuse down the road.
Marijuana is one of the first addictive substances that a teen will try, often by age 14. And statistics show that of the people who use marijuana before age 15, 62 percent go on to use cocaine at least once, 9 percent on to heroin, and 54 percent on to the nonmedical use of prescription drugs. Thus, studies support the notion that marijuana is a gateway drug.
The gateway theory behind marijuana use is that teens start with something “mild” and at their fingertips – marijuana is widely available, its short-term effects can be minimal and last for an hour or two, and most teens believe they won’t be punished (or punished badly) for giving it a try. The problem is, this first initiation opens youth up to a whole new world of drugs and experimentation. After trying marijuana, they become less apprehensive or afraid of the consequences. They believe they can do more. Or, a new and stronger high becomes more appealing.
It’s no shock then why experts are now connecting marijuana use to the ongoing opioid epidemic. According to a news release published by drugabuse.gov, marijuana users may be more likely than nonusers to misuse prescription opioids and develop prescription opioid addiction. Specifically, marijuana users have 2.6 times greater odds of initiating prescription opioid abuse, and 2.2 times the odds of meeting the diagnostic criteria for an opioid use disorder.
4. Smoking marijuana before age 25 increases the chances of developing a substance use disorder.
Many people want to believe that marijuana is not addictive, or that it is not a gateway drug. And while it is not the most addictive drug out there today, it can in fact lead to more severe substance abuse and substance use disorders. According to SAMHSA, about 1 in 11 marijuana users over age 15 become dependent on the drug. This is about 9 percent of people who will develop a marijuana dependence that causes problems in their work and relationships. Not surprising, that number jumps to 17 percent for those who start using marijuana young, and 25 to 50 percent for those who smoke it every day.
This means that about 1 in every 6 adolescents or young adults who use marijuana will become dependent on the drug. And if that person uses daily, their chance of becoming addicted increases exponentially. It is no wonder, then, why marijuana is the second leading substance for which people receive drug addiction treatment, just behind alcohol.
Adolescents and young adults, as we know, are more prone to drug addiction. The human brain does not fully develop until age 25, making young users especially susceptible to the detrimental effects of drugs like marijuana. If your loved one is using marijuana regularly, do not simply dismiss it as “safe.” The risks of developing a marijuana addiction are there, alongside the other detrimental effects of the drug.
Most of all, do not hesitate to contact Turnbridge. We constantly hear from and treat young men and women battling marijuana addiction, and we can also help you. Please call 877-581-1793 to learn more about our young adult drug treatment center.