Psychological Impact of Marijuana Use

July 11, 2024

Explore the unseen side of marijuana and its psychological impact, from addiction risks to mental health effects.

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Marijuana Use Among US Adolescents

Understanding the prevalence and impact of marijuana use among US adolescents is crucial to addressing the broader issue of substance abuse and its psychological implications.

Prevalence of Marijuana Use in Teens

In the United States, marijuana use among high school students is worryingly prevalent. As per reports from the CDC, in 2019, 37% of US high school students reported lifetime use of marijuana, and 22% reported use in the past 30 days. Furthermore, a significant number of middle and high school students reported past-year marijuana vaping—8% of eighth graders, 19% of 10th graders, and 22% of 12th graders.

Student Category Percentage Reporting Past-Year Marijuana Vaping
Eighth Graders 8%
Tenth Graders 19%
Twelfth Graders 22%

Impact of Marijuana on the Developing Brain

The teenage years are a critical period for brain development, which continues until around the age of 25. Marijuana use during this period can have detrimental effects on the developing brain.

Marijuana use in teenagers can impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between areas necessary for these functions.

A study conducted in New Zealand showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana use disorder lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 13 and 38.

Using cannabis at an early age, especially before 18, can impact synaptic pruning and white matter development in the brain due to key stages of brain development being affected.

Frequency, dose, and duration of cannabis use significantly affect the impact of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on the brain, particularly in areas regulating emotional experiences [3].

Studies suggest that marijuana use in adolescence may lead to subtle yet potentially detrimental effects in cognitive domains related to attention, learning, and memory. These effects may persist even after prolonged abstinence from marijuana.

Adolescent marijuana users demonstrate differences in gray matter macrostructure, including decreased right medial orbital prefrontal cortex volume and decreased concavity of the sulci and sulci thinning in frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes compared to non-users.

White matter alterations, such as decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) and increased mean diffusivity (MD), have been observed in the brains of adolescent marijuana users compared to non-users. These white matter changes may be associated with poorer neurocognitive functioning [4].

Given the widespread use of marijuana among adolescents and the potential harm it can cause to the developing brain, urgent measures are needed to address this issue. Understanding the psychological impact of marijuana use is an integral part of this process.

Short-Term Effects of Marijuana

Understanding the short-term effects of marijuana is essential in comprehending the overall impact of this substance on mental health. Two key areas to focus on include how THC, the active component in marijuana, interacts with the brain's pleasure centers and the duration of marijuana's effects.

Pleasure Centers and THC

The main psychoactive compound in marijuana, THC, significantly disrupts the functioning of the brain areas responsible for pleasurable experiences. According to Drug Free CT, THC activates the brain's reward system, triggering a flood of dopamine, which contributes to the pleasurable "high" that recreational users seek.

However, this activation doesn't always result in a positive experience. For some individuals, marijuana use may lead to adverse effects, such as confusion, anxiety, or even paranoia.

Moreover, heavy marijuana use can lead to impairments in thinking, memory, and learning functions. Research published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that marijuana use affects how the brain builds connections between areas necessary for these functions.

Duration of Marijuana Effects

The duration of the effects of marijuana varies depending on how it is consumed. When smoked, the effects generally last from 1 to 3 hours. However, when marijuana is consumed in foods or beverages, the effects may last for many hours due to the drug passing through the digestive system first. This information is corroborated by Drug Free CT.

Method of Consumption Duration of Effects
Smoking 1 - 3 hours
Ingestion (foods or beverages) Several hours

The duration of these effects is crucial to bear in mind, especially when considering the potential cognitive impairments and other negative impacts that marijuana can have.

In conclusion, while marijuana may stimulate pleasure centers in the brain and produce a desirable "high", it's essential to remember the potential short-term effects and the impact on cognitive functions. As with any substance, understanding the implications of use is key to making informed decisions.

Marijuana Use Among Young Adults

Understanding the prevalence and potential impacts of marijuana use among young adults serves as a critical step in addressing the broader societal implications of drug abuse.

Statistics on Marijuana Use in Young Adults

In 2021, a notable 35.4% of young adults aged 18 to 25, translating to approximately 11.8 million people, in the United States reported using marijuana in the past year [2]. By 2022, the trend of marijuana use remained significant among adolescents, with 30.7% of 12th graders reporting usage in the past year and 6.3% reporting daily use.

Age Group % Used in Past Year % Daily Users
18 to 25 35.4% N/A
12th Graders 30.7% 6.3%

Cognitive Impairments and Mental Health

The psychological impact of marijuana, particularly on cognitive functions, is significant. Heavy marijuana usage, especially in adolescence, can lead to disadvantages in neurocognitive performance, alterations in brain functioning, and changes in brain architecture.

Marijuana impairs cognitive functions such as motor coordination, attention, learning, memory, and executive functions including planning, organizing, problem-solving, decision-making, and emotional and behavioral control [5].

The severity of these deficits depends on multiple factors, including the quantity, recency, age of onset, and duration of marijuana use. Furthermore, these effects may persist even after prolonged abstinence from marijuana.

Long-term marijuana use can result in lasting deficits in decision-making, concept formation, and planning, as well as verbal fluency impairments, especially in individuals who initiated heavy marijuana use in adolescence.

Furthermore, marijuana use in adolescence could have implications for academic functioning, as well as social and occupational functioning extending into later life [4].

Cannabis-related executive function deficits may improve after cessation of cannabis use, but some deficits persist and can hinder an individual's ability to learn and apply the skills required for successful recovery, putting them at increased risk for relapse.

Moreover, Cannabis use is associated with significant harm for some individuals, with 1 in 10 users developing cannabis dependence. Furthermore, 16% of all substance abuse treatment admissions in the US were for cannabis-related disorders, second only to alcohol-related disorders.

This information highlights the necessity for increased awareness and intervention strategies targeting marijuana use among young adults, given the potential for significant cognitive impairment and the risk of developing marijuana dependence.

Marijuana Potency and Addiction Risk

Understanding marijuana and its psychological impact requires an examination of its potency and the associated risk of addiction. This includes looking at the increase in THC concentration over time and the risk factors for developing a marijuana use disorder.

Increase in THC Concentration

The potency of marijuana, as detected in confiscated samples, has seen a steady increase over the past few decades. In the early 1990s, the average THC content in confiscated marijuana samples was less than 4%, a stark contrast to the figures from 2018 when the average THC content was found to be more than 15%.

A report from the CDC further highlights this trend. The average delta-9 THC concentration in cannabis almost doubled from 9% in 2008 to 17% in 2017. Furthermore, products from dispensaries often offer much higher THC concentrations. In a study of products available in online dispensaries in three states with legal non-medical adult marijuana use, the average THC concentration was found to be 22%, with a range between 0% and 45%.

These increasing THC concentrations have significant implications for marijuana users. People with marijuana use disorder may need to use more marijuana or stronger concentrations over time to experience a "high". Higher THC levels in marijuana also result in stronger effects on the brain.

Risk Factors for Marijuana Use Disorder

The rise in THC concentration in marijuana, coupled with certain methods of using marijuana such as dabbing and vaping concentrates, may deliver very high levels of THC to the user, potentially contributing to the risk of developing marijuana use disorder.

Estimates suggest that marijuana dependence occurs when the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing the production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.

People with marijuana use disorder may face other negative consequences such as problems with attention, memory, and learning. Furthermore, marijuana use has been associated with an increased risk of earlier onset of psychotic disorders, particularly schizophrenia, in individuals with other risk factors such as a family history. High doses of cannabis can induce temporary psychotic episodes, potentially increasing the risk of developing a psychotic disorder in the future [8].

The relationship between cannabis use and mental illnesses like depression is less clear, but research has indicated an increased risk of depression among individuals who use marijuana during adolescence. Furthermore, cannabis use has been linked to suicidal thoughts and behaviors in teenagers and military veterans in the United States [8].

Researchers are still exploring the consequences of the body and brain being exposed to high concentrations of THC and how recent increases in concentrations impact the risk of developing marijuana use disorder [7]. The trends and research findings underscore the need for increased public awareness about the risks associated with marijuana use.

Consequences of Marijuana Use Disorder

With the growing prevalence of marijuana use, it's essential to understand the potential consequences, particularly when use becomes a disorder. Understanding the negative impacts on brain function and the development of marijuana dependence is crucial.

Negative Effects on Brain Function

Regular marijuana use can have detrimental effects on the brain, particularly when use begins in adolescence and continues heavily into adulthood. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana use can impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between these areas.

In a study conducted in New Zealand, individuals who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and developed an ongoing marijuana use disorder lost an average of 8 IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38. This loss was not fully recovered, even when they quit using marijuana in adulthood.

Moreover, the CDC reports that individuals with marijuana use disorder may face additional negative consequences such as problems with attention, memory, and learning.

Development of Marijuana Dependence

When marijuana use transitions from a leisurely activity to a necessity, it becomes a use disorder. Over time, individuals can develop a dependence on marijuana, where they need to use the drug to feel normal and avoid the discomfort of withdrawal.

It's also crucial to note the mental health implications associated with marijuana use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that marijuana use may be linked to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among teens.

Furthermore, marijuana use has been associated with an increased risk of earlier onset of psychotic disorders, particularly schizophrenia, in individuals with other risk factors such as a family history [8].

Understanding the psychological impact of marijuana is essential for public health. As marijuana use continues to rise, so does the need for comprehensive education on the potential consequences, particularly among adolescents and young adults.

Cannabis Use and Mental Health

The link between cannabis use and mental health is a topic that has been extensively studied and continues to be a major focus of research. The increasing prevalence of marijuana use and its psychological impact is a cause for concern, particularly regarding its association with mental illness and its potential link to psychiatric disorders.

Association with Mental Illness

Research suggests a connection between marijuana use and the development of mental illnesses. This association is particularly noticeable in individuals who begin using cannabis during adolescence. Studies have indicated an increased risk of depression in individuals who use marijuana during their teenage years.

Further, cannabis use has been linked to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, particularly in teenagers and military veterans in the United States. This raises significant concerns about the broader societal implications of marijuana use, especially considering the increasing acceptance and accessibility of cannabis in many parts of the country.

Mental Illness Association with Cannabis Use
Depression Increased risk in teenage users
Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors More prevalent in teenage and veteran users

Link to Psychiatric Disorders

The connection between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders is complex and influenced by several factors. Among these is the onset of psychosis, particularly schizophrenia, which has been associated with cannabis use. This association is especially significant in individuals who have other risk factors such as a family history of psychosis. High doses of cannabis can induce temporary psychotic episodes, potentially increasing the risk of developing a psychotic disorder in the future.

Moreover, cannabis use has been linked to an earlier onset of psychosis in individuals with genetic risk factors for psychotic disorders, as well as exacerbating symptoms in those already diagnosed with these conditions.

Psychiatric Disorders Association with Cannabis Use
Psychosis Earlier onset, and exacerbated symptoms
Schizophrenia Increased risk in users with family history

Long-term research studies are needed to determine the extent to which cannabis contributes to these and other poor mental health outcomes. Factors influencing the relationship between cannabis use and mental health outcomes include the quantity and frequency of drug consumption, the potency of the cannabis product, the individual's age at first use, and genetic and environmental factors like trauma and stress [8].

In conclusion, while the full extent of the psychological impact of marijuana use is not fully understood, the evidence suggests a strong association with various mental health conditions. It is important for individuals to be aware of these risks, particularly those who are at an increased risk due to factors such as age, family history, and personal mental health history.

References

[1]: https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects/teens.html

[2]: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/cannabis-marijuana

[4]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3930618/

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037578/

[6]: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive

[7]: https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects/addiction.html

[8]: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/there-link-between-marijuana-use-psychiatric-disorders

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