Cannabis is an addictive substance produced from the cannabis plant and has been used for pleasure since ancient times. Cannabis use is the most common type of substance use worldwide after smoking and alcohol. It is stated that approximately 13 million people worldwide were addicted to cannabis in 2010. Today, its use has increased, including in developed countries, and it has become widespread especially among teenagers. It is known that cannabis negatively affects the brain development of teenagers. So how exactly cannabis affects the teenage brain?
Cannabis affects the teenage brain by slowing down cognitive development. Adolescence is the period when a large number of cortical synapses are pruned. This process is important for brain development and can lead to cognitive problems if interrupted. Since the endocannabinoid system takes on various tasks in the cortical pruning process, it has been suggested by some researchers that the intake of exogenous cannabinoids such as THC at this age will hinder the development of the brain and cause damage to the brain. Although we cannot suggest a definite causality due to methodological limitations, we can conclude that heavy cannabis consumption may cause structural changes in the brain and regressions in cognitive functions.
Effects of Substance Use on Brain Structure in Teenagers
Adolescence is a unique period in neurodevelopment. However, alcohol and cannabis use is common during this period. Advances in neuroimaging have made it possible to closely examine the brain structure and functioning of adolescent substance users and to identify circuits in which neuropsychological impairments occur.
fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) is one of the brain imaging methods frequently used in research. fMR1, areas of the brain that are increased in response to a mental task; It is a method that shows the oxygen level in the blood and makes it possible to investigate the neural activity of the brain.
Studies with fMRI on the effects of adolescent substance use on the brain have found that adolescents who use substances have abnormalities in brain function associated with their changing neurocognitive functions over time. Abnormalities were seen in the structural volume of the brain, white matter quality, and cognitive task activation.
Changes in the brain functions of adolescents differ according to the substance use pattern. However, even in young people who have a habit of drinking less than 1-2 years, abnormalities are seen if there is a consumption of 20 drinks per month and especially if they consume more than 4-5 drinks at a time.
Research has shown that heavy cannabis use during adolescence can lead to poor performance in memory, cognitive tasks, attention, spatial skills, and executive function. These behavioral effects of excess cannabis use may occur as a result of reduced volume of important brain structures (eg, hippocampus), compromised white matter quality, and abnormalities in the activation during cognitive tasks.
Substance Abuse in Teenagers
According to Lettieri, biomedical explanations are more suitable for understanding the reasons why a person continues to use substances, whereas social-psychological explanations are more suitable for understanding a person’s substance use behavior. The combination of biomedical factors and sociological elements provides the most appropriate explanation for understanding a progression from substance use to substance abuse.
In order to understand substance use in adolescence, basic factors such as personality, family, and peer determinants should not be ignored. If one of these factors has a sufficiently strong negative effect, the probability of substance use is still high in the adolescent, even if the negative effects of the others are minimal. If one or more of these have a strong positive effect, it can protect them against substance use, even if the adolescent is at high risk.
Addiction is often used synonymously with being physically attached to the substance one uses. In cases where physical dependence is not at the forefront, the dynamics of addiction are defined as compulsion, relapse, and denial. Psychoactive substances used by adolescents do not differ from those used by adults. In DSM-4, psychoactive substances were collected in 11 classes. These are alcohol, amphetamine or amphetamine-like substances, caffeine, cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, nicotine, opiates phencyclidine or phencyclidine-like substances, and sedative-hypnotics.
The effect of the psychoactive substance taken varies depending on the duration of use, the degree of purity of the substance used, and the way of use. Adolescents who use substances can use different substances by mixing them together. It is emphasized that the use of multiple substances in adolescence is not an exception, but a very common situation. This makes evaluation and treatment difficult. The reasons for multiple substance use in adolescence are not well known.
Possible causes include – counterbalance of the harmful effect of the primary substance, eg the use of alcohol to reduce the effect of stimulants. To increase the effectiveness of both substances by using two substances together, for example: changing the effect of both by using cocaine and heroin together. For maintenance with the other substance when the main preferred substance is not used, eg: providing relaxation with sedatives if alcohol is not available at that time.
An example of genetic factors can be given in a study conducted among opiate addicts. Here, 248 opiate addicts and their relatives were examined. It was found that 37% had a history of opiate use in one or more siblings and 28% had opiate use in more distant family members. While 3% of the patients had opiate use in their fathers, no use was found among mothers. As a result, first-degree relatives of opiate addicts are nine times more likely to have opiate addicts than the normal population.
There are many studies showing that a family history of alcoholism is an important predictor of future alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence was found in 25% of the adopted sons of alcoholic fathers. In family studies with adopted alcohol addicts, it has been found that the presence of a family history of alcohol addiction is a precursor to the next generation. In addition, in twin studies, the rate of alcohol dependence was found to be slightly higher in monozygotic twins than in dizygotic twins. Studies on adoption and twins support the genetic basis of alcohol dependence. When the data of these studies are examined, it is seen that hereditary factors play a role in 50%. This heritable transition is more pronounced in males than females.
The finding of increased behavioral activity in childhood in biological children of alcoholic parents increases their risk of alcohol use in later life and substance use in adolescence. In addition, people diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder show impairment in certain personality traits and cognitive functions, which may affect the development of alcoholism. However, it should not be forgotten that antisocial personality disorder is another and separate risk factor for alcohol addiction and substance use.
In gene studies, the genetic basis of alcoholism was found to be related to the D2 receptor gene. There is talk of a link between the D2 receptor and mixed substance use. However, some researchers state that this gene cannot be considered as a marker for alcoholism. It seems more likely that many genes rather than one gene play a role in alcohol and substance abuse.
Psychological Development of Teenagers and Cannabis
Adolescence has many features in terms of psychological development compared to other developmental stages. The characteristic of the adolescence period is the change. The speed of change, the quality, and the adaptation of the youth to all these changes can be affected by many factors. The changes seen during adolescence are wide-ranging, and for many young people, these changes are an opportunity to learn. They find new and adaptive ways of dealing with their emotions, other people, and the outside world. In some adolescents, the psychological changes in adolescence are perceived as a threat to internal balance. This change is overwhelmed by the stress and they resort to maladaptive coping strategies such as substance abuse.
Behavioral disorders and negative mechanisms of action are considered as two separate risk factors leading to substance use. The negative effect mechanism is seen as an increase in emotional reactions, that is, reactive behavior and variability. Conduct disorder, on the other hand, is defined as behavioral uncontrollability, impulsivity, excitement seeking, antisociality, and unconventionality. Interactions between these two mechanisms pose a risk in substance use.
The family plays a primary role in the child’s social and cognitive development. An incompetent parent, characterized by lack of affection and or excessive criticism or hostility, inadequate discipline, and lack of direction and intimacy, leads to the emergence of a pattern of aggression and antisocial behavior in the child. In addition, the family’s attitude towards substance use is an important factor in determining the behavior of the youth in this regard.
For example, the parents’ habits of using various drugs, the coping methods they use to solve various problems when they encounter them, may cause the young person to use them to cope with the problems by taking the parents as an example. Relationships of parents related to marriage, sibling effects, and friend effects are also important factors in substance use. According to the results of the research, early childhood aggression is determinant for antisocial behavior in adolescence.
This is thought to play a more important role than being rejected by peers. Peer influence becomes much more intense as one reaches adolescence from childhood. The presence of substance use among friends is an important precursor for adolescent substance use. However, it is controversial whether abnormal friends affect the adolescent or whether the already abnormal adolescent finds friends similar to himself.
In short, we can say that the first premise of substance use in adolescence is the child’s relationship with his parents. This interconnection consists of support and control variables. The second is the personality of the adolescent. It has indicators such as excitement seeking, rebelliousness, and a tendency to abnormal behavior. Third, substance use among peers has a significant impact. Fourthly, traditional parents and the bond between parents and adolescents play a protective role. which also balances the substance use among peers. Fifth, some factors such as childhood irritability, tantrums, conflict with siblings, and the environment provided by the mother are closely related to substance use in adolescence.
Adolescents’ alcohol use is more of collective behavior. It is almost entirely group action, not just a culturally shaped or socially controlled behavior. It is a performance show to others rather than the personal experience and preference of the young person. The way his behavior is perceived by others is more important than his personal preferences. There is a serious collective aspect to this.
The relationship of the social environment to adolescent substance use. It is linked to the service it provides and the success of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention programs. In this context, primary prevention is organized activity to prevent substance use and related problems in adolescence. Secondary prevention includes interventions in the early stages of adolescent substance use problems, and tertiary prevention includes treatment services for youth with substance use disorders.
There Is a Higher Risk of Cannabis Addiction in Teenagers
Those who start using cannabis before the age of 18 are seven times more likely to develop an addiction. Therefore, it is very important to protect young people from false information and to ensure that they have accurate and real information about cannabis. Marijuana is obtained from the cannabis plant. Just because it’s herbal doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain chemicals. The active ingredient is a chemical structure called tetra hydro cannabinol (THC). It contains more than five hundred chemicals. Just because a substance is natural/herbal doesn’t make it any less harmful. The proposition “There is no harm because it is natural” is not true. It should be noted that some mushrooms are poisonous even though they are herbal.
Cannabis is a potentially addictive substance. Repeated cannabis use results in addiction. 30 percent of cannabis users develop a cannabis use disorder. Starting to use cannabis, especially during adolescence, increases the likelihood of developing an addiction. Those who start using cannabis before the age of 18 are seven times more likely to develop an addiction. It is therefore very important to protect young people from such misinformation and to ensure that they have accurate and factual information about cannabis.
Recession in thinking ability, weakening in memory, decrease in attention, and forgetfulness occurs in cannabis users. The ability to learn is weakened. People who started using cannabis during adolescence had a decline in intelligence and a 6-8 point decrease in IQ. It causes damage to cognitive functions. This damage is related to the age of onset of cannabis use, duration, and amount of use. Marijuana negatively affects attention, memory, and learning abilities. This leads to a decrease in school success. Marijuana users are less likely to finish school than non-users. There is a close relationship between prolonged, never-ending schooling and cannabis use.
There is an association between cannabis use and many psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. Schizophrenia-like psychosis is seven times more common in those with a genetic predisposition. Marijuana can be a transitional substance to other narcotic/stimulants. Often the first substance used is cannabis. Young people are not yet experienced enough in driving. Their reaction in risky situations is weaker than experienced drivers. They are more interested in speeding. In addition, if they use cannabis, their decision-making ability is reduced, reaction time is prolonged and coordination is impaired. The risk of fatal traffic accidents increases.
Young people start using cannabis for reasons such as having fun, getting away from their problems, rebelling against the system, growing up, and curiosity. However, by using cannabis, they give up the possibility of growth. A person who can’t finish school, can’t fulfill his responsibilities, can’t have a job, can’t be productive will not be able to assume the adult role and will always remain an adolescent. Thinking that he is rebelling against the system by using cannabis is another dilemma. It will not be able to get out of being the slave of drug dealers who use all the tools of the capitalist system.
It is also not true that cannabis is legal in some countries. Controlled use is not considered illegal in some countries. These are the countries where cannabis use is very common. Partial liberalization did not reduce the negative consequences associated with cannabis use. In addition, this decision is a political decision, not a medical one. Marijuana renders the youth dysfunctional by numbing them and making them lazy. A youth that does not think, produce or create will not be able to shape the future. It is our responsibility to create a youth who does not condemn his life to the vicious circle of substance abuse.
The Facts About Cannabis Use in Teenagers
The use of cannabis, which has increased in recent years among young people, has a lot of harm, especially when it is started to be used in youth. For this reason, it is very important that we talk to our young people frequently and convey the scientific findings of cannabis to them. Marijuana is a narcotic drug obtained from the drying of the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant Cannabis Sativa. The main active drug in marijuana is THC, a substance that causes a person to experience psychotic experiences.
It is important to know the name of this substance because in recent years there has been a huge increase in this main substance in cannabis. Therefore, the harmful effect it has on young brains increases. Marijuana or, in common use, the herb is often used wrapped in cigarettes. It has a strong weed odor, not like a cigarette. It is also used by inhaling its steam in a method called bucket or bong. It is also widely consumed by adding to cake, candy, lollipops, or other foods.
The use of cannabis among young people, which has been increasing in recent years, has a lot of harm, especially when it is started to be used in youth. Adolescence years are the years when growth is the fastest when a person is in research to form his/her self, he wants to try different things while in this research, he takes risks, and he needs to explore. Research on the brain shows that the development of the human brain does not stop suddenly at the age of 18, it continues to develop.
As technologies enable brain research to develop, our brains become adult brains; It is known that the development of the anterior region of our brain, which performs tasks such as making decisions, reasoning, and organizing tasks, continues until the mid-20s, and in addition, the regularization of hormones reaches the mid-20s. Therefore, this discovery can lead to risky behaviors such as curiosity, the desire to experiment, and the use of cannabis that can cause permanent harm.
At these ages, the thought of “nothing will happen to me” is quite common. For this reason, it is very important that we talk to our young people frequently and convey the scientific findings of cannabis to them. As I just said, young people’s brains continue to develop actively until they are about 26 years old. The cannabis used in this period harms the developing brain of the young person due to the direct effect of the additive in it:
- Results of brain MRI studies show that young people who use cannabis have permanent damage to the structure of the brain.
- Difficulty in thinking and problem-solving.
- There are serious impairments in memory functions such as remembering and keeping in mind.
- Problems are observed in learning, they complain that they cannot learn as easily as they used to.
- There is deterioration in coordination.
- They have difficulty maintaining attention.
- Some studies have also found that teens who use marijuana for a long time also have lower IQ scores.
The use of cannabis at a young age negatively affects the physical health, psychology, social life, and school success of the person. Here are the main negative effects:
- It can have psychological consequences such as panic attacks and bewilderment, and these psychological problems can sometimes be permanent after long use.
- The effect of the substance in cannabis causes the heartbeat to beat much more than normal. For this reason, people who use it frequently have a higher risk of heart and circulatory disorders, rhythm disorders, and heart attacks.
- Men who use cannabis are more likely to have testicular cancer, a decrease in sperm count, and erection problems than non-users.
- It is observed that young people who use cannabis have lower grades, fail classes, or are expelled from school.
- It causes various psychological problems such as depression or anxiety disorder. Studies show that there is a relationship between cannabis use in youth and depression in later life.
- It increases the risk of similar disorders in young people with a family history of psychosis and schizophrenia.
- The young person, who spends a lot of time at home and indoors, begins to have problems in his physical health.
- When general life satisfaction is investigated, they often give more negative feedback.
- Compared to their non-marijuana-smoker peers, their academic and job success is lower, which negatively affects their psychology.
- It causes accidents as it negatively affects skills such as coordination and concentration required for driving.
- Studies say that 1 in 6 teens who use cannabis are addicted. So, the notion that “marijuana is not addictive” is not true, and teens who develop addiction are unable to quit even if they try. Due to cannabis use, they are unable to fulfill their duties and participate in activities with family and friends.
- It is known that it can be a stepping stone to more dangerous drugs that can have deadly consequences, such as cocaine and heroin.
- Because it weakens decision-making mechanisms, it can lead to alcohol use or other risky behaviors.
How Exactly Does Cannabis Affect the Brain?
It contains a chemical called THC and anandamide. Cannabis is a specialized form of neurotransmitters released by the firing of neurons. After firing, the neurons become unresponsive for a while in order not to overreact or gain dominance. This allows the brain to function in a calmer and more controlled manner. However, cannabis inhibits this unresponsiveness in some parts of the brain. Neurons always remain active.
It produces a great increase in thoughts, imagination, and perceptions. The thought becomes the most important and deep thought possible. One cannot see the big picture and cannot remember recent events. The person is in the focus of intense thought at that moment, and neurons continue to fire for the current thought until they focus on a new idea. Cannabis affects dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain.
Mostly it gives a feeling of comfort and relaxation, sometimes laughing crises, euphoria is observed. It provides pain relief and excessive focus on events and sometimes creates anxiety. It affects receptors in areas where short-term memory, learning, coordination, movement control, and mental functions take place. There is a change in the perception of time and a regression in reflexes.
The effects of cannabis vary depending on the type and variety of the substance used. Sativa gives the feeling of speaking and laughing; Indica, on the other hand, creates a dreamy effect. The effect of cannabis on people also varies according to the type of cannabis, the amount and style of consumption, environmental conditions, and the mental state of the person consuming it.
Marijuana is used by wrapping, bong, or bucket. When smoked in a wrap like tobacco, it reaches the blood in a short time through the lungs and the effects last for one to three hours. If it is used with a bong (bucket), the first flash effect lasts for 15 minutes, as it will be taken in powder form intensively. The psychological dependence on marijuana is much higher than its physical dependence. When it is not used, withdrawal symptoms are observed: Nervousness, tension, loss of appetite, insomnia, and apathy are the main symptoms.
Long-term cannabis users have a high incidence of psychiatric disorders, especially schizophrenia. Lung problems, bronchitis, asthma, panic attacks, depression, and demotivation syndrome are observed. The biggest danger in cannabis use is the misconception that its content is pure. Synthetic substances are mixed into cannabis bought in the market. The rate of schizophrenia in cannabis users is 7 times higher than in non-users.
Helpful Information on Substance Use in Teenagers
Adolescence is a period in which psychosocial changes occur together with rapid biological maturation and there is the potential to experience a developmental crisis. Teenagers who are in the identity development process and experience intense internal conflicts experience more health problems when they encounter any risk factor. Young people often have high-risk factors and therefore need more help than other people.
Adolescents constitute an important risk group in terms of initiating substance use due to their curiosity about gaining an identity, seeking novelty, trying different experiences, and perhaps their desire for self-discovery and life. The fact that the age of starting various substances is usually within the youth years, necessitates that this problem should also be addressed as a youth problem. In many countries, the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and other substances among young people increases the risk of accidents, suicide, violence, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases. For this reason, especially in adolescents, substance use and addiction should be emphasized.
In recent years, there has been an increase in alcohol and illicit substance use among adolescents and youth in all European countries. Substance use is considered the biggest health problem in the United States. 13-24% of Americans have a problem with substance use, and this rate is the most common of all psychological problems in the country.
Substance use in low-income countries is low when compared to other countries. However, when we consider the young population in low-income countries, it should not be forgotten how large these low rates will create. In studies conducted among young people in low-income countries, it is seen that more than half of them have smoking experience, and the rate of using tobacco at least once in primary education is 16%. Alcohol use at least once in a lifetime is 35-45%, cannabis use is 4%, inhalant use is 4%, and ecstasy use is 2-2.5%. The most frequently used substances after tobacco is alcohol, volatile substances, and cannabis, respectively.
“Substance” can be defined as any chemical substance that can cause abuse and dependence, and that can be taken in different ways, causing a change in mood, perception, cognition, and other brain functions. These can be non-prescription, illegal substances such as cannabis, heroin, cocaine, as well as prescription drugs such as amphetamines, benzodiazepines, other sedatives, and hypnotic drugs, or volatiles, tobacco (nicotine) that are not subject to legal inspections or have partial legal regulations in their sales, coffee (caffeine), and alcohol (ethanol).
Addiction refers to a person’s loss of control over their substance intake. The WHO defines substance abuse as “a behavior that prioritizes a used psychoactive substance significantly higher than other occupations and objects that the person previously valued”. In other words, substance use becomes a behavior that is harmful to the individual and society. Pathological use of substances is examined in two categories: substance abuse and substance addiction. Both of these make up the category of substance-related disorders, which is a core category within the DSM-4.
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