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Effects of Smoking Weed on Teens' Developing Brains

Study Author on the Effects of Teens Smoking Weed: “You’re Changing Your Brain With Just 1 or 2 Joints”

With the further legalization of marijuana around the US, there's one group of recreational smokers that shouldn't be taking advantage of being able to use the drug: teens. Although weed has been found to alleviate stress and anxiety, pain, and nausea, among other benefits, just as with alcohol, there's an age restriction on using the drug where it's legal — and for good reason. A recent study is showing why it could potentially be harmful for teens to be smoking weed — even just one or two joints — before their brains are fully developed.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, looked at the brains of 46 teens who reported having used cannabis once or twice by age 14. When compared to adolescents who had never used the drug, the brains of said 46 kids showed increased brain matter volume "in areas where cannabis binds, known as cannabinoid receptors . . . The biggest differences in gray matter were in the amygdala, which is involved in fear and other emotion-related processes, and in the hippocampus, involved in memory development and spatial abilities."

The study's senior author and University of Vermont (UVM) Professor of Psychiatry, Hugh Garavan, PhD, told ScienceDaily: "Consuming just one or two joints seems to change gray matter volumes in these young adolescents. The implication is that this is potentially a consequence of cannabis use. You're changing your brain with just one or two joints. Most people would likely assume that one or two joints would have no impact on the brain."

"You're changing your brain with just one or two joints."

At the adolescent stage, teens' brains normally undergo a "pruning" process in which brain matter thins out as the brain matures and continues to develop. So while it's unclear as to how exactly this thickened brain matter will affect those teens in the future, Garavan suggests, "One possibility is they've actually disrupted that pruning process."

When talking to your kids about the effects of drugs and alcohol on their young, developing bodies, be sure to inform them about the potential negative effects of marijuana on their growing brains — specifically concerning their memories, emotions, and spatial reasoning.

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