I live and work in Northern California, home of the Emerald Triangle. If you have never heard of it, the name refers to three counties that together make up the largest cannabis producing region in the United States. Over 1 billion dollars of annual revenue from the cultivation of marijuana!As you know, I also work with teenagers and young adults. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time talking about marijuana and working with people who are using it either recreationally or habitually.
This is why a new study from medical researchers at Harvard and Northwestern is particularly interesting to me.
Here are some of the most important points.
The study shows that 18- to 25-year-olds who smoke marijuana—even just recreationally!—had marked abnormalities in areas of their brains that regulate emotion and motivation.
It is absolutely good advice that young people should hold off on smoking pot as long as possible because their brains are still developing and the earlier the drug is taken, the worse the effects will be.
Now, I already knew that marijuana was bad for the developing adolescent brain, but I find it very interesting to see the connection to emotional regulation and motivation.
So many of the teenage boys I am working with are struggling with managing their emotions (read: anger) and finding motivation for schoolwork and other life responsibilities. These are normal adolescent challenges, but when you add casual marijuana use it really changes the landscape.
Of course we also know that teen marijuana use is linked to poor school performance, other drug use, and mental health problems. It really is not as harmless as some people believe (especially teenagers).
Important quote from the researcher:
(Referring to the parts of the brain which help control whether people judge things to be rewarding or aversive and whether they experience pleasure or pain from them)
“This is a part of the brain that you absolutely never ever want to touch,” Breiter asserts. “I don’t want to say that these are magical parts of the brain — they are all important. But these are fundamental in terms of what people find pleasurable in the world and assessing that against the bad things.”
This is serious stuff! I believe it is important to protect our teens, to educate them and support them as much as possible. Curiosity and experimentation are going to happen, it is not the end of the world if you catch your teen smoking pot, but it is something to take really seriously.
Here are two helpful links if you want to look into this a bit more.
The study mentioned above:
Recreational Pot Use Harmful to Young People’s Brains
A very informative and helpful post from my friend Linda Esposito, LCSW:
Teens and Drugs: A Plant-Based Diet Never Includes Weed