Teens who smoke pot early and often risk lowering their IQs, Substance Abuse Centre says

Elizabeth Payne, Postmedia News | April 20, 2015
Teens who start smoking marijuana early and do so frequently risk lowering their IQ scores, according to research from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, which found evidence that early and frequent cannabis use can alter the structure of the developing brain.

The research, part of a larger study due out in June, was released Monday — on April 20 — a day that has become a counterculture holiday to celebrate marijuana, as part of a bid to raise awareness about the negative effects of marijuana use among adolescents.

In past years, thousands of people, the majority teenagers and young adults, have flocked to Parliament Hill on April 20 to smoke marijuana. Similar rallies take place around the world.

While use of marijuana among Canadian teens and adults has decreased in recent years, it remains the most commonly used illegal drug among Canadian youth — at about three times the rate of adults. And Canadian youth are the top users of cannabis in the developed world, according to a 2013 UNICEF report......click "Read More" below to continue.....
The growing body of evidence about the effects of cannabis use during adolescence is reason for concern, said Amy Porath-Waller, the CCSA’s lead researcher on the issue.

“I think we should be very concerned. Canada’s … young people have the highest rate of cannabis use compared to other developed countries. There is a need to take a pause and consider that this is the future of our country. We certainly want to prepare our youth so that they can be productive members of society in terms of employment so there certainly is reason that Canada needs to be concerned about cannabis use among young people.”

Equally concerning, she said, is the perception among many Canadian youth that cannabis is benign and has no effect on their ability to drive or their performance in school.

Canadian teens might be the world’s biggest users of marijuana in the developed world, but they use alcohol at a far greater rate, including binge drinking.

There is growing evidence about the effects of cannabis on teen brains, but more research needs to be done, according to Porath-Waller. The CCSA report The Effects of Cannabis Use during Adolescence, to be released in June, will gather some of that evidence.

It released a glimpse of that report Monday, including findings that:

    Cannabis use negatively affects cognitive and motor functions and is a safety hazard for drivers;
    That early and frequent cannabis use is linked with lower IQ scores, lower school performance and the risk of dropping out;
    There is “consistent evidence” of a link between psychosis and cannabis use;
    About one out of six people who start using cannabis during adolescence will develop a dependency. That rate is higher than among adults; and
    “Adolescents are at particular risk for cannabis-related harms since their brains are undergoing rapid and extensive development,” according to the research.

A key factor in the impact of cannabis is its potency, which, according to Porath-Waller, has almost quadrupled in the past 25 years. “It is not the cannabis of the ’60s and ’70s.”

Porath-Waller said researchers are beginning to consider whether studies done decades ago are even useful any more because of the increased potency of cannabis.

The centre for substance abuse has also done research into cannabis-impaired driving, which is increasingly being recognized and prosecuted.

“It is very clear that cannabis does impair driving ability in a number of areas, similar to alcohol, but slightly different,” said Doug Beirness, lead researcher on drug-impaired driving. Among other things, he said, cannabis use impairs a person’s ability to “plan a series of events necessary to accomplish a goal. After cannabis you tend to make mistakes doing that.”

Researchers found a disconnect between the views of adolescents and the reality of the effects of cannabis on driving, among other things. During a series of focus groups, researchers heard many say that smoking marijuana made them better drivers.

    It is very clear that cannabis does impair driving ability in a number of areas, similar to alcohol, but slightly different

Increasingly, coroners are testing for drugs in addition to alcohol after fatal crashes. Cannabis is the second-most common substance to alcohol found in fatal injury crashes.

The message from researchers, who have travelled to Colorado to study the effects of marijuana liberalization there, is that cannabis is not benign. Loosening of criminal laws around marijuana should not disguise that fact, they say.

“We know there are harms associated with cannabis,” said Porath-Waller. “We need to increase awareness among the public and among young people that the marijuana of today is different than that of previous generations. It has impacts on brain functioning, there are implications for kids in school and implications for driving.”

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