What should I know about marijuana now that it’s becoming legal in more states?

Families/Kids Mental Health

Marijuana may not be as addictive as opioids or alcohol, but it is definitely associated with some negative consequences, especially among adolescents.

In June of this year, a study was published in Nature Medicine detailing the efficacy in a small trial of an experimental drug to combat marijuana addiction. When it comes to marijuana, there are a lot of myths both about its positives and negatives, and one of the most enduring untrue beliefs is that marijuana is not addictive. In fact, around 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted, and this number rises to 1 in 6 among younger populations (younger than 18). Driving after using marijuana is considered driving under the influence and is also very unsafe.

Aside from enduring myths and misperceptions, one of the most disturbing things about marijuana use is its potential effects on developing brains and the perception that it is “natural” or safer than other substances such as psychotropic medications. It does seem to be the case that using marijuana as a teenager can lead to negative impacts on cognitive performance and memory. In other words, adolescent usage of marijuana can seriously impact the brain. Brain development generally continues until a person is 25-28 so using marijuana heavily during either high school and/or college can lead to non-trivial long-term effects. It is also important to remember that any potentially negative health effects apply to all forms of marijuana, including edibles and gummies. Marijuana is also not usually regulated so it’s hard to know what we are consuming with respect to quantity and additives.

Even more disturbing is the fact that marijuana use, especially heavy use, in teenagers has been associated with an increased risk of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, and there is a real, unsettling correlation between marijuana usage in adolescence and schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals.

But what about all the health benefits of marijuana? It is true that marijuana can help with some of the negative side effects of chemotherapy and can probably be used safely under these circumstances, in consultation with a physician or other clinician. The health benefits of marijuana when it comes to mental health are much less clear. Some people feel that marijuana relieves their anxiety, but at the moment, there are no clear studies to back this up on a population level. In fact, when someone stops using marijuana, there can be a higher risk of anxiety and depression.

The bottom line?

Marijuana may not be as immediately harmful as some other substances like opioids, alcohol, and cocaine. But before we take widespread legalization of the drug to mean that it is virtually harmless, we should look carefully at some of the potential negatives, including the fact that the regular use of marijuana can be relatively harmful for adolescents. Even occasional use has been linked to higher risks of psychosis, schizophrenia, and other mental health problems, although the highest risk probably comes from frequent, regular use. Scientists, the media, and the general public should be careful about what messages we are all spreading about marijuana. While you may not go to jail for possessing or using it, that doesn’t mean we should completely let our guard down. We need more research on the impacts of this commonly used and abused substance, and we should be especially careful about how we talk to our teens and young adults about it. And if the teens and young adults in our lives are going to use it, we want to ascertain whether there are other mental health issues they are dealing with that need to be addressed. Decisions about whether to use and how often to use marijuana may make all the difference in some young adults’ lives.

Stay safe, stay well, and stay informed!


Those Nerdy Girls