Health Wise
November 29, 2016
Marijuana, adolescence and mental health

There is no need for any official study for us to say that a huge proportion of our young people are abusing marijuana. Results from the National Health and Nutrition Survey, conducted a few years ago, showed a worrying trend among young people with respect to tobacco smoking. If this trend is translated into a marijuana smoking habit, then we can say that there are many adolescents that smoke marijuana. Considering that marijuana is fairly well accepted in the Vincentian culture, then the cause for concern is real.{{more}}

Marijuana, also known as cannabis, can induce sensations of relaxation and euphoria, but anxiety, fear, distrust and panic are also common, especially with high doses or if the marijuana is unexpectedly potent.

Short-term effects include loss of memory and judgment and distortion of perception, leading to impaired performance in school or at work. It can also be addictive.

In teens, marijuana affects brain systems that are still maturing, potentially leading to a negative and long-lasting effect on cognitive development.

Large doses of marijuana may induce acute psychosis, including hallucinations, delusions and a loss of the sense of personal identity.

These reactions are usually unpleasant, but temporary; however, longer-lasting psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, have been associated with the use of marijuana.

Most of the intoxicating effects that recreational users seek are caused by the main psychoactive – or mind-altering – ­chemical in the drug, delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC).

THC is found in resin mainly produced by the leaves and buds of the female cannabis plant. The plant contains over 500 other chemicals, of which more than 100 are chemically related to THC. Newer strains of cannabis contain higher concentrations of THC.

Researchers from a university in Canada have shed light on the significant, long-term impacts of THC on the adolescent brain, after exposing adolescent rodents to THC.

The team carried out tests in areas of behaviour that are commonly observed in schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders, such as social interaction, motivation and cognition, exploratory behaviours, levels of anxiety, cognitive disorganization – which is the inability to filter out unnecessary information – and various neuronal and molecular changes.

With marijuana use widespread among young people and the call for legalizing it, there are clear implications. For example, adolescence is a critical period of brain development, and the adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable. Health policy makers need to ensure that marijuana use is not abused by our youths. They should ensure that it stays out of the hands of teenagers. Mental health support services should be available to support them.

Remember that our youths must be cared for and must be protected. If this does not happen, it can cause a cascade of events and we will all be ultimately affected.

Dr Rosmond Adams is a medical doctor and a public health specialist.
He may be emailed