Pros and Cons of Adolescent Cannabis Use

(Editor’s note: The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece on June 6 “Cannabis and the Violent Crime Surge” that noted a meta-analysis found the risk of perpetrating violence was more than twice as high for young adults who used marijuana. I asked a writer to research the subject.)


Marijuana has been in the news the past couple of years, with the legalization of many states and with a push to make it federally legal. Is this the right thing to-do? or should we take a step back and evaluate the pros and cons?

New research and data are just coming to light, and it may shift one’s ideas about cannabis, also called weed, pot or ganja.

 Hashish and marijuana are parts of the cannabis sativa plant. The major difference is that marijuana usually applies to dried pieces of the plant, mainly flower buds, while hash is a paste from resin, or sap of the plant and generally contains a higher concentration of psychoactive chemicals.

Over the centuries one can find examples of weed usage in the world. The earliest is in India in the Atharva Veda the holy book of Hindu, which says to cherish plants including cannabis.

The Arabian culture has references to the use of cannabis as a sleeping agent and to cure ailments. Even then the liberal users of cannabis were called hashish eaters, normally a derogatory name, or what today  someone is called a “stoner.”

Afghanistan’s cannabis growers prosper.
Photo: South China Morning Post

Afghanistan is known for its perfect climate for growing cannabis and poppies. Many things were traded on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that linked the Roman Empire and China, which included cannabis and opium.

The poppy plant when in its bulb stage can be cut and released a white liquid. The liquid is then collected then heated to get any impurities out and it produces opium and heroin. Could have cannabis been a “gateway drug” to opium?

Over the years cannabis has been growing in potency due to combining different strains or by selecting the better crop. Within the past 20 years one strain went from 4% to 34% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol—the main psychoactive compound). With all the new varieties being created and potency increasing it is safe to say that cannabis is stronger now than it has ever been.

Though weed has been around thousands of years and have been studies for decades, the conclusions are like boat in the water always shifting. It is hard to find an unbiased articles because it seems like everyone has a different opinion.

Looking strictly at studies done by medical professionals, there was one published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2018 that looked at substance use and adolescent cognitive development. (Visit:  click here.)

The study was done on seventh through 10th grade students over a four-year period to test cannabis and alcohol use on the adolescent brain.

Kids were tested on working memory, perceptual reasoning, delayed recall memory, and inhibitory control. Working memory is one of the best indicators to measure IQ. The findings showed that both alcohol and cannabis had impaired cognition.

“Cannabis use, but not alcohol consumption, showed lagged (neurotoxic) effects on inhibitory control and working memory and concurrent effects on delayed memory recall and perceptual reasoning (with some evidence of developmental sensitivity). Cannabis effects were independent of any alcohol effects.”

Basically, the study said that the use of cannabis will effect ones mental IQ more than the use of alcohol. “The relationships between cannabis and perceptional reasoning were more pronounced at earlier stages of adolescent development, indicating that early-onset users are more impaired on perceptual reasoning and the additional effect of their cannabis use in a given year is particularly harmful to their perceptual reasoning abilities during the early adolescent period.”

A 2018 Meta analysis (JAMA Psychiatry ”Association of Cannabis with Cognitive functioning in Adolescents and Young Adults” click here ) was done to find the effects cannabis has on cognitive function in adolescents and young adults.

The paper concluded there was a definite decline in cognitive function though it was small. They also found that if one abstained from cannabis for 72 hours the effect would be reversed.

The paper also suggested that the side effects in adolescents weren’t as detrimental as previous research would suggest. They ultimately decided that more research would need to be done into the pros and cons relating to cannabis use.

Another study looked at psychiatric syndromes in out-patient adolescents who were cannabis users. More than 600 adolescents were evaluated for five different syndromes: “conduct disorder (74%), ADHA (77%), depression (37.7%), anxiety (28.8%) and traumatic distress (13.8%). About 72% endorsed acute levels of two or more syndromes.”

That study seemed to suggest that there is a strong correlation between mental health and cannabis use, but was unable to distinguish whether patients were using cannabis to self-mediate – or did cannabis exacerbate the mental condition. What came first? Is the underlining factor the brain or is it the pot?

Cannabis should not be overlooked for its health benefits. The main one is for use of severe forms of epilepsy where the FDA has approved cannabis as treatment. Others uses for TCH is during chemo to help with nausea and pain, muscle spasms, seizures, PTSD, Alzheimer’s and Glaucoma.

Cannabis has been around for millenniums, and it seems scientists are still unsure about benefits or possible long-term effects, even with years of data and research. Though the pros and cons are many, it seems we should not outright dismiss it or flat out accept it. One should weigh the cost of his and her own situation and weigh the benefits with his or her doctor.

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One Response to Pros and Cons of Adolescent Cannabis Use

  1. T M Brod MD says:

    I haven’t time now to re-review the psychiatric literature but our reviewer should have noted the striking incidence of First-Episode Psychosis statistically associated with adolescent cannabis use. Personally, I support cannabis availability but this important correlation (information) should be more widely publicised to protect the vulnerable.

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