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Prevention Presents: Marijuana & the Teen Brain

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Marijuana and the Teen Brain
Ashley Rodebaugh, M.A.
Prevention Education Specialist

The United States has recently had more states legalize marijuana completely or for medical purposes, so it should not come as a shock that marijuana is the most commonly used drug among teenagers.  If you asked teen users why they use marijuana, many would probably say that they enjoy the “high” it gives them, it’s fun, it makes them happy, more social, or calms their nerves.  In fact, this is why most people choose to start using most drugs.  Drugs mimic dopamine, a chemical in our brains that makes us happy. So what’s the big deal if drugs mimic dopamine? Feeling happy is great, however, repeated and chronic use of any drug, including marijuana, makes it likely that the user’s brain will stop producing dopamine itself and the user will need to rely on their drug of choice to feel happy again-this is the beginning of a drug addiction.  AND, because the teen brain is still developing, addiction to any drug happens much faster to a teen user than an adult user. 

Any time a teen (or adult) uses marijuana they are also likely to experience changes in mood, altered senses, difficulty thinking and problem-solving, an impaired memory, and balance and coordination issues. This is because marijuana effects the parts of the brain that control these bodily functions and processes.  Most of these impairments will go away once a person is no longer high.  However, some of these impairments, such as memory and learning difficulties, may linger for a while after the person becomes sober. Chronic marijuana use, however, can have long lasting negative effects for the user.   For example, chronic marijuana users who began using before age 17 are likely to lose a total of 8 IQ (intelligence) points over the course of their addiction.  Even when they quit using, their IQ will remain lower than before they ever started using marijuana. Some research indicates that chronic teen users are more likely to experience mental health disorders as adults, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, despite the fact that they no longer use marijuana as adults. 

While drugs can have a negative impact on a user of any age, research has shown teen users experience even more negative and longer lasting effects, especially chronic users.  Marijuana use before adulthood physically changes how the developing brain continues to develop, and increases chances that teen users will become an addict later in life. For more information about drug and alcohol prevention, contact Harbor Behavioral Health's prevention Team at 419-475-4449.

For more information about marijuana and the teen brain, visit these websites:





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Making Smart Decisions
Deirdre Washington, M.Ed., OCPSI 
Manager, Prevention Education



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