Marijuana – Teenage Friend or Foe

Marijuana has become the most widely consumed illegal drug in the world. Since 1990, marijuana usage has doubled in the US and Canada. Today’s marijuana is so potent that the United Nations has considered reclassifying it as a different drug from the 1960’s counterpart. Although there is still a perceived notion that pot it is relatively benign, it is far from being a soft drug. The main reason is that today’s marijuana has been re-engineered to produce a high level of Tetra Hydro-Cannabinol or THC, its active ingredient. The levels of THC in the 60s and 70s was anywhere between 1-3% as compared to today’s pot which contains as much as 18-25%, a very significant increase.

In recent a CBC documentary called The Downside of High, the link of between marijuana use and schizophrenia in teenagers was examined. Some very important questions were posed as to whether today’s pot smoking teenager may be setting himself up for a lifetime of mental illness. It seems that today’s teenagers are most at risk of potentially developing permanent and irreversible mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder from regular marijuana use.

Research suggests that THC can send some people into a state of psychosis, a symptom of schizophrenia. While marijuana use alone can’t trigger schizophrenia, evidence suggests that a teenager with genetic susceptibility is most at risk. Studies showed that if these at risk kids begin smoking pot before age 16, they are very much at risk and their chances of developing schizophrenia are quadrupled. The reason is that too much THC can interfere with a teenager’s neural-pruning, a kind of streamlining of the brain. In other words, marijuana use can have a detrimental psychological effect on developing brains.

It work likes this. The hallucinogen in marijuana or THC causes an increase in dopamine, the chemical in the brain that controls moods. An increase in dopamine heightens awareness which can lead to hallucinations associated with schizophrenia. Since the brain has its very own endo-cannabinoid system, the pot smoker will overwhelm his brain with additional cannabinoids already contained in marijuana’s THC. Over repeated usage, marijuana can deregulate the endo-cannabinoid system. Deregulating the endo-cannabinoid system in teenage brain can leave long-lasting and sometimes permanent effects. In addition, today’s potent strains of marijuana have little or no cannabidiol or CBD, a natural occuring buffer in marjuana that reduces the psychotic properties of THC.  CBD has essentially been bred out of today’s stony pot.

The bottom line is that today’s pot contains an obscene amount of THC. While some kids can smoke to their hearts content and not be permanently affected others will risk their mental health. If there is any genetic predisposition of mental illness in a teenager, marijuana usage can trigger a psychosis. Since no genetic testing is currently available right now to rule out schizophrenic disposition in teenagers, one can hope that education can deter a young person from smoking pot.

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