One of the most commonly found arguments against legalizing cannabis is that more teenagers will use it. People worry about reports that cannabis can damage adolescent brains. What follows next is the argument that cannabis use by adolescents leads to permanent damage of the prefrontal cortex.
Is this really true? Or is it yet another one of the “fictions” invented to demonize cannabis? The Canaryhad a look at the facts behind the fiction.
Who is messing with whose head?
Dr. Seth Ammerman, is famous for his phrase: “we would rather not mess around with the developing brain.”
He is the co-author of a report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This highly influential group of experts are the source of the classic argument that legalization of cannabis, and slack attitudes towards cannabis, puts teenagers at an increased risk of using it, hampering normal brain development.
A study published earlier this year echoed these fears. The researchers stressed that the age people start using cannabis makes a big difference to its effect on the brain. They found that if subjects used cannabis at the age of 16 or younger the development of the prefrontal cortex were obstructed.
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain managing reasoning, complex thinking, and judgment. The experts emphasize the fact that memory and the ability to plan may be damaged permanently.
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Does cannabis damage adolescent brains, or not? Result inconclusive
Although this may seem an open-and-shut conclusion, some experts criticized it as inconclusive. The fact that these subjects all have something in common apart from using cannabis doesn’t necessarily mean cannabis caused the effect. The effect could be why they all choose to self-medicate with cannabis to begin with.
Leading researcher, Dr. Francesca Filbey, reluctantly admits longitudinal studies will be the only way to prove the link between brain changes and cannabis use at a young age.
In other words, how do we know that these subject’s brains developed the way they did because of cannabis use?
What came first, the chicken or the egg?
The author of another study investigating the effects of cannabis on the adolescent brain notes that teenagers using cannabis display impediments in neurocognitive performance, alterations in brain functioning and microstructural and macrostructural brain development. It is, however, not conclusive as to whether such disadvantages reflect the possibility of increased substance use, which will then further influence the behavior and brain structure.
Put simply; there is no way to determine if these young people were attracted to cannabis because their brains are different to the “normal” brain in the first place, or if their brains became the way they are because they used the substance.
Predisposed to cannabis?
It’s perfectly reasonable that certain brain anomalies could predispose young people to cannabis use. The studies “proving” that cannabis affects brain development only indicate the prevalence of a certain anomaly. They don’t prove cause and effect.
It’s not unusual for studies to leave us with more questions than answers, and this is one of those cases. Does cannabis damage adolescent brains? We don’t know for sure, but instead of worrying about an unproven cause and effect relationship, we should help these kids by finding out why they feel the need for an altered state of consciousness.