Marijuana is not Harmless and Negatively impacts Learning
Jennifer Cardinal, Ph.D.
Many of our teens and young adults do not believe there is any risk in using cannabis. This belief has been reinforced by the spreading legalization of the drug as well as positive coverage in the media including stories highlighting positive medicinal qualities. In our own community, we have seen passionate parents advocate for medicinal access for their children with epilepsy. It is interesting to note that children with epilepsy – who have higher rates of learning disabilities- may benefit from medicinal impact on seizures, but heavy recreational use in teens can have significant negative impact on learning. A teen’s brain is still developing until their 20’s and marijuana abuse can impair their intelligence, attention and memory. There is some evidence that the results can be irreversible the younger a child/teen is when they begin using. Compared to their drug free peers, students who abuse marijuana get lower grades and are less likely to graduate.
It is also important to look at our own behaviors and attitudes related to marijuana as parents and professionals. I have seen an increase in unsubstantiated claims targeted at the special needs population with claims of marijuana as an intervention for symptoms associated with ADHD and Autism. There is no evidence to support these claims. Cannabis use can exacerbate symptoms of both disorders. There is also evidence of serious mental health impacts with a link between early cannabis use and higher rates of anxiety and depression and increased risk of psychosis and schizophrenia later in life.
It isn’t easy to fight a teen’s preconceived ideas, but we need to counteract the prevailing popular misconceptions about this drug. Spend time with your teen and their friends to help them learn about their brain’s development. Remember, the teen brain struggles with inhibition and planning, but with patience and time we can make a difference! The following short informational videos are good resources for you and your teen to hear and learn from experts in the field.