When a person is smoking cannabis, one of the plant’s chemicals known as THC, passes from the lungs into the bloodstream and then to the brain. If that brain is exposed to a lot of THC, but still immature, the part responsible for controlling emotions may never reach its full potential. This can have long-term consequences and effects on one’s measurable intelligence, learning and judgment. But there are also other reasons why teens should not consume weed.
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the full story
When a person is smoking cannabis, one of the plant’s chemicals known as THC, passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The THC is then carried by the blood to the brain, where it acts on specific cannabinoid receptors.
These receptors are found in areas of the brain associated with: concentration, thinking, time perception, coordination, memory, and sensory pleasures.
The effects of THC activation in these areas is responsible for the “high” that people feel. But besides creating an altered state of mind, something else happens.
survey on teenager weed consumption
In the United States, according to a 2018 survey, 1 in 8 adolescents aged 12 to 17, consumed marijuana in the past year. In 12th grade, about 1 in 16 do so daily. So – what’s the problem? Even super smart people smoke, right? Let’s look at the effect of cannabis on a teenager’s brain!
THC effect on brain
The brain’s response to counter the effects of THC impairs it’s attention, its ability to remember, and its potential for learning. These Effects can last up to several days. This would not be such a problem if our brain ran like a machine. But that’s not the case.
The brain is a living organism — maybe the most precious one there is. In teeangers, that organism is still immature. It takes about 25 years for the human brain to be fully developed. This is why when teenagers and adults argue, they often come to different conclusions. There is a biological reason for that.
adult vs teenage brain
Adults have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. The cortex of teenagers is still growing. They are more influenced by their already matured limbic system, which responds to fears and emotions.
effect of immature brain exposure to THC
If the developing brain is exposed to a lot of THC, the part responsible for controlling emotions may never reach its full potential. This can have long-term consequences and effects on one’s measurable intelligence, learning and judgment.
One study that followed 13 year olds for 25 years has found that those who regularly consume marijuana lose on average 5.8 IQ points by the time they reach adulthood. Since our average IQ is just 100, that is enough to shut the door to a good college or close the opportunity to work at a great company. But that’s not all.
There is also evidence that some teenagers that use cannabis are at higher risk of developing depression or even a psychosis. A psychosis changes the way the brain processes information, and causes you to lose touch with reality. You can see and hear things that aren’t real and may completely lose your mind.
In short, the high of cannabis comes with a multitude of side-effects. Some might be fun, some might be healing, and some are potentially horrible — we don’t always know. If you want to live life with the ultimate learning machine inside your head, you might want to wait until your mind is fully developed before trying weed.
what do you think?
What are your thoughts? Did you ever try cannabis as a teenager? And if so, do you think it did damage to your mind or not? Please share your experiences in the comments below!
- Understanding the teen brain – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center
- Meier, M. H., Caspi, A., Ambler, A., Harrington, H. L., Houts, R., Keefee, R. S. E., McDonald, K., Ward, A., & Poulton, R. (2012, August 27). Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. – PNAS.
- Kuepper R, van Os J, Lieb R, Wittchen H, HÃ¶fler M, Henquet C et al. Continued cannabis use and risk of incidence and persistence of psychotic symptoms: 10 year follow-up cohort study BMJ 2011; 342 :d738
- Bagot, K. S., Milin, R., & Kaminer, Y. (2015). Adolescent Initiation of Cannabis Use and Early-Onset Psychosis. Substance abuse, 36(4), 524–533.
- Watch this 16-minutes documentary: High School: Marijuana in an American Public High School. Smoking pot has become almost a norm at this Portland high school.
Learn about Teen Brain Development with this short explainer video.
Ask every student to anonymously write on a piece of paper if they have consumed weed in the past month. Then collect each piece of paper and ask the students to make a guess how many of them have done so. Before you reveal the results, play the video and have a classroom discussion about the potential risks and downsides of THC on the growing brain. End the class by revealing the survey results.
- Script: Jonas Koblin
- Artist: Pascal Gaggelli
- Voice: Matt Abbott
- Coloring: Nalin
- Editing: Peera Lertsukittipongsa
- Sound Design: Miguel Ojeda
- Production: Selina Bador
- Fact-checking: Ludovico Di Chanaz