Feb
9
2011

First Dance with Mary Jane

Smoking marijuanaSome interesting research has come out in the past few months about teen marijuana use, and its effect on the developing brain.

Researchers at McLean Hospital (Harvard-affiliated) in Belmont, MA studied a group of chronic (pardon the pun) marijuana users in their early 20s. Out of this group, they found that those who started smoking marijuana prior to age 16 performed significantly worse on cognitive tests compared to those who started after age 16. The particular test they used was a measure of executive functioning, which assessed brain functions such as cognitive flexibility, self-monitoring, impulse control, and ability to maintain a set of rules in mind while completing a task. Moreover, those who started smoking marijuana earlier in adolescence were heavier users in their 20s, compared to those who started smoking later in adolescence.

The researchers concluded that early use is the main culprit for the cognitive problems. Executive functioning skills are the last to develop in the brain (some say our executive functioning capacity is not fully done “cooking” until our mid-20s). It is possible that early, heavy marijuana use damages the adolescent’s executive functioning development.

I think this research has implications for the “legalize it” battles that are being fought on the state level right now. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that marijuana is not as “harmless” as once believed, particularly on the developing adolescent brain. We already know about how alcohol damages the developing adolescent brain, and this new research suggests that we may need to add marijuana to the list. Even if you are in favor of “legalizing it,” this research should give you pause about what ages it should be legal for.

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About the Author: Dr. Scott Hamilton

The Learning Project

The Russel & Mary Williams Learning Project at Park Tudor School was established in 2003 to provide learning support services and develop learning strategies for students to reach their own academic potential.