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News Archives

Can Marijuana Help My Teenager Manage Anxiety?

Wednesday

By : Christine Carter
Source : Greater Good Magazine

This is a good time for all of us parents to shore up our understanding of the pros and cons of cannabis, given this week’s wave of legalization votes. Four new states eased restrictions on marijuana. (In addition, Oregon passed two measures that legalize hallucinogenic mushrooms for medical purposes and decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs like heroin—but we’ll leave information about those drugs for another column.)

Your son is not alone. Just as adults are drinking more to cope with this stressful time, teenagers may be smoking more pot—or at least parents are seeing it more since they are in closer proximity these days. Even before the pandemic, adolescent marijuana use was at its highest rate in 30 years.

Here’s why that matters: Brain development is more significant during adolescence (between the ages of about 11 or 12 years old and 25 or 26) than during any other developmental stage except in the womb. And the brain’s natural endocannabinoid system—which is affected by marijuana use—plays a very important role in this critical period of brain growth.

The unique brain development that occurs during adolescence is temporarily halted by marijuana use. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient in marijuana that produces a high, binds with the brain’s cannabinoid (CB1) receptors. This blocks their normal function.

It also makes kids really high. Teenagers have more CB1 receptors than adults do for THC to bind to, and THC also stays in the CB1 receptor for longer than it would in an adult. According to neuroscientist Frances Jensen, author of The Teenage Brain, “[THC] locks on longer than in the adult brain. For instance, if [a teen] were to get high over a weekend, the effects may be still there on Thursday and Friday later that week. An adult wouldn’t have that same long-term effect.”

This is the effect I want your son to understand: While THC is in the CB1 receptor, it blocks the process of learning and memory and slows, or stops, adolescent brain development.

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