Clearing the air
Heavy marijuana use can permanently impair teen brains
WRITTEN BY TERRY BULLICK
It’s a hazy topic. As the federal
government ponders decriminalizing
marijuana, more and more people see the
drug as harmless and even beneficial.
Not neuroscientists such as Diana
Dow-Edwards. The distinguished
visiting research chair in Brain Science
and Child and Family Health and
Wellness with the Fulbright Canada-Palix
Foundation says research clearly shows a
downside to marijuana use. Specifically,
it can lower a person’s IQ, lead to mental
illness and cause abnormal responses
to stress. These effects can vary, but are
often most pronounced in teens who are
heavy users of the drug and its synthetic
versions such as K2 and spice.
“The effects of stimulating the brain’s
receptors for marijuana are different in
a younger individual than they are in
an older individual because the brain is
still developing,” says Dow-Edwards,
who is based at State University of
New York’s Downstate Medical Center.
More recently, she’s been working at the
University of Lethbridge’s Canadian
Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience
where she’s focusing on the effects of
marijuana on teens’ brains. “The brain
is sensitive from early fetal period
through adolescence and into adulthood.
Sensitive meaning if you expose the
brain to a drug, it will cause a change.”
Change can be in a variety of forms:
altering brain development; causing
cognitive impairment by limiting verbal
learning and memory; and, most notably,
bringing on psychosis or depression.
When and how much a teen smokes
plays a huge role: early and frequent/
heavy use (four or more times a week)
can cause up to a 10-point drop in IQ.