Health Risks of Marijuana Use
RVR raises awareness about the health risks associated with marijuana use, specifically with regards to youth and commonly-held beliefs, by sharing Maine Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services’ 5 Key Messages:
1. Marijuana use can impact teens' judgment and self-control which could lead to poor decisions and risky behavior.
2. Marijuana damages teens' brains and bodies in different ways than it does adults, specifically affecting attention, learning, memory, and processing speeds.
3. Marijuana use can keep teens from doing their best in school and work as regular use has been linked to lower academic performance.
4. Teens who use marijuana are more likely to become addicted than adults who use marijuana.
5. Marijuana of today is much stronger than marijuana from the past. The psychoactive chemical (THC) content is much higher and teens can never be sure what they are putting into their bodies or what it will do to them.
River Valley Rising understands that marijuana is a hot topic of conversation here in Maine and across the country. With legalization of recreational marijuana in other states and the legalization of medical marijuana here in Maine, youth are getting a lot of mixed messages about the safety of marijuana use. RVR keeps it simple: marijuana use affects brain development in youth and is best avoided; smoking marijuana as an adult is very different from smoking marijuana as a youth.
RVR doesn’t have a stance on the issue of legalizing marijuana or on medical marijuana; however, there are good reasons concerning health to reduce marijuana use among youth.
On this page you will find information to help you better understand marijuana and its impact on youth and the community.
Marijuana is not just smoked or made into oil; it now comes in many different products such as cookies, candy bars, and soda which are more appealing to youth. There are varying levels of THC (the psychoactive substance in marijuana) in these products and many are not meant to be eaten or drunk all at one time, though they resemble products that most would eat or drink all at once. Eating or drinking too much of these marijuana products has led to severe health consequences for people of all ages.
How Marijuana Affects the Brain
The main chemical in marijuana that affects the brain is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). When marijuana is smoked, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries it to organs throughout the body, including the brain. As it enters the brain, THC attaches to cells, or neurons, with specific kinds of receptors called cannabinoid receptors. Normally, these receptors are activated by chemicals that occur naturally in the body. They are part of a communication network in the brain called the endocannabinoid system. This system is important in normal brain development and function.
Most of the cannabinoid receptors are found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Marijuana triggers an increase in the activity of the endocannabinoid system, which causes the release of dopamine in the brain's reward centers, creating the pleasurable feelings or “high.” Other effects include changes in perceptions and mood, lack of coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory.
Certain parts of the brain have a lot of cannabinoid receptors. These areas are the hippocampus, the cerebellum, the basal ganglia, and the cerebral cortex. The functions that these brain areas control are the ones most affected by marijuana:
- Learning and memory. The hippocampus plays a critical role in certain types of learning. Disrupting its normal functioning can lead to problems studying, learning new things, and recalling recent events. A recent study followed people from age 13 to 38 and found that those who used marijuana a lot in their teens had up to an 8 point drop in IQ, even if they quit in adulthood.
- Coordination. THC affects the cerebellum, the area of our brain that controls balance and coordination, and the basal ganglia, another part of the brain that helps control movement. These effects can influence performance in activities such as sports, driving, and video games.
- Judgement. Since THC affects the areas of the frontal cortex involved in decision making, using marijuana can cause you to do things you might not do when you are not under the influence of drugs - such as engaging in risky sexual behavior, which can lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like HIV, the virus that causes AIDS - or getting in a car with someone who's been drinking or is high on marijuana or other drugs.
When marijuana is smoked, its effects begin almost immediately and can last from 1 to 3 hours. Decision making, concentration, and memory can suffer for days after use, especially in regular users. If marijuana is consumed in foods or beverages, the effects of THC appear later—usually in 30 minutes to 1 hour—but can last over 4 hours. Long-term, regular use of marijuana—starting in the teen years—may impair brain development and lower IQ, meaning the brain may not reach its full potential.
Some people compare marijuana to other drugs such as tobacco or alcohol, saying it's not as bad. With new research being unveiled on a daily basis, scientists are finding that marijuana can have more devastating impacts than both of the drugs it's most frequently compared to. Check out the picture below: