Teen cannabis use more likely to result in addiction

ASK THE DOCTOR  column –  – by Dr. Robert Ashley – Erie Times-News, December 30, 2016

Q:  Marijuana seems to be increasingly accepted in our country.  But I worry about my kids using it.  Is it addictive?

A:  Marijuana has gained greater acceptance in this country, not in small part because its medical use can stimulate appetite, control nausea and control pain.  One potential problem with this degree of acceptance is how adolescents view the drug.

In 2015, 70 percent of high school seniors viewed marijuana as not harmful, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future survey;  in 1990, only 20 percent felt this way.

Perhaps the biggest risk with marijuana is how it affects the adolescent brain.  The endocannabinoid system, a vast system of receptors within the brain, spinal cord and smaller nerves, affects multiple brain and body functions.  The system continues to develop in humans until the age of 21 or so.

If used frequently in adolescence, marijuana can rewire many of these nerve pathways.  These changes aren’t seen as much in the adult brain and, if they surface, can be easily reversed by stopping use.  In adolescents, however, this rewiring of the nervous system may create addiction.  According to the NIDA, only 9 percent of people who try marijuana become addicted.  However, this number increases to 16 percent among those who start using marijuana in adolescence.  It increases further if marijuana is used daily in adolescence.

Marijuana not only causes short–term memory loss, it also affects mental abilities for days after its use.  That means a person’s ability to plan, organize, solve problems and make decisions is impaired, which has significant ramifications for adolescents trying to retain information learned in school.

Further, for those predisposed to schizophrenia, marijuana can induce psychosis and, in younger users, can decrease the age of schizophrenia’s onset.  People with a familial predisposition to schizophrenia should certainly avoid use.

Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu,, or Ask the Doctors, c/o Media Relations, UCLA Health, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles CA  90095.

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