March 8, 2024

How Marijuana Alters Brain Development

As marijuana legalization sweeps across the nation, it's more important than ever to understand the potential risks associated with its use, especially among adolescents.

Marijuana-and-Altered-Brain-Developmental

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Contributors & Editors

Susana Spiegel

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Last Update on March 8, 2024

grief and loss signs and symptoms

Let us help you start your journey to recovery.

Get compassionate evidence- based and trauma focused substance abuse treatment in Arizona.

Category

Tags

As marijuana legalization sweeps across the nation, it’s more important than ever to understand the potential risks associated with its use, especially among adolescents. While some may view marijuana as a harmless substance, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that it can have profound and long-lasting effects on the developing brain. 

Studies about Cannabis and Its Impact on Brain Growth

As discussions around marijuana use become more prevalent, it’s crucial to understand how it affects young brains. Recent scientific studies provide valuable insights into the potential risks associated with cannabis use during adolescence1 while also offering practical advice for teens and parents navigating this complex issue.

Brain Structure and Function: Research has shown that cannabis use during the teenage years can lead to alterations in brain connectivity and cognitive abilities. These changes may impact critical functions such as memory, attention, and decision-making.

Cognitive Decline: Evidence suggests that using marijuana during adolescence could result in difficulties with learning and maintaining focus. This can have implications for academic performance and overall cognitive development.

Accelerated Brain Aging: Longitudinal studies have indicated that teenage cannabis use might accelerate the aging process of the brain, particularly in regions responsible for impulse control and planning. This finding underscores the vulnerability of the still-developing adolescent brain.

By balancing the latest research findings with supportive, open conversations, we can work together to protect the health and well-being of young people while fostering informed decision-making around substance use.

Yes, adolescent brains are still developing and are more susceptible to the effects of marijuana compared to adult brains. The earlier an individual starts using marijuana, the greater the potential for long-term effects on brain development.

Adolescent Brain Development

The brain undergoes a profound transformation during adolescence, laying the foundation for key cognitive abilities and behavioral patterns that will shape an individual’s future. This critical development period is marked by heightened brain plasticity2, making the teenage brain particularly receptive to environmental influences and learning experiences. 

This increased plasticity also makes adolescents more vulnerable to the potentially harmful effects of substances like cannabis, which can disrupt the delicate balance of the developing endocannabinoid system and lead to long-lasting changes in brain structure and function.

As the prefrontal cortex, which controls higher-order thinking, planning, and impulse control, is one of the last brain regions to mature, continuing its development into early adulthood, teenagers may be more susceptible to risky or impulsive behaviors. 

Considering these distinct vulnerabilities, it is crucial for both adolescents and their parents to be well-informed about the potential risks of cannabis use during this critical phase, recognizing the importance of making healthy decisions and offering guidance to youth navigating this transformative period.

The Significance of Cannabis Use in Adolescence

A growing body of research indicates that cannabis use during adolescence can have a profound impact on brain development. Studies suggest that regular marijuana use can interfere with the normal maturation process of the teenage brain, particularly in areas related to cognitive functions and emotional management3

The prefrontal cortex, which plays a great role in making thoughtful decisions and regulating behavior, is especially vulnerable during this time.

  • Implications for Teens: If you’re a teenager, it’s essential to understand that your brain is in a critical stage of development. Your choices during this time can affect your brain’s growth and potential. By educating yourself about the impact of cannabis on the developing brain, you can make informed decisions that prioritize your health and well-being.
  • Implications for Parents: As a parent, you play a huge role in guiding your teen through this challenging development period. Engaging in open, honest conversations with your teenager about brain development and the potential risks associated with cannabis use can help foster a supportive environment for healthy decision-making. By providing accurate information and creating a safe space for dialogue, you can strengthen your relationship with your teen and encourage wise choices.
 

Recognizing the unique vulnerabilities of the adolescent brain underscores the importance of making informed decisions regarding cannabis use. Understanding the ongoing development during the teenage years allows teens and parents to navigate these formative years with knowledge, compassion, and open communication.

💡

Is it possible to reverse the effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain?

While some studies suggest that certain effects may be reversible after stopping marijuana use, others indicate that some changes in brain structure and function may be permanent, especially with heavy and prolonged use during adolescence.

Marijuana Use in Adolescence

As marijuana becomes more accessible, it’s crucial to understand the effects of cannabis on the developing brain. The age at which an adolescent begins using marijuana may have long-term effects on brain development4. The adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable, and marijuana use may lead to alterations in regions involved in memory, learning, and decision-making.

Recognizing the factors contributing to teen marijuana use and the potential long-term effects on the teenage brain is essential. By providing accurate information and support, we can foster healthier choices and open conversations around cannabis, promoting the well-being of adolescents during this critical stage of development.

Get Help for Marijuana Addiction at Cornerstone

Please contact Cornerstone substance use treatment services, located in Arizona today!

Impact on Brain Development

As marijuana use becomes more prevalent among adolescents, it is essential to understand the potential consequences of regular cannabis consumption on the developing brain. Recent studies have shed light on the effects of marijuana use during the teenage years, raising concerns about its impact on cognitive function, emotional regulation, and long-term brain development.

  •  Emerging research highlights the concerning effects of cannabis on the developing brain during adolescence.
  • Studies suggest that the age at which an adolescent begins using marijuana may have long-term effects on brain development, particularly in regions involved in memory, learning, and communication between different brain areas5.
  • The effects of marijuana on the teenage brain can vary based on factors such as frequency of use and potency. Still, evidence suggests that regular marijuana use may have long-lasting impacts on cognitive functioning and emotional regulation.
  • These findings underscore the importance of caution and informed decision-making when it comes to cannabis use during adolescence.
  • By understanding the potential risks associated with marijuana and its effects on the brain, teens can make more informed choices about their health and well-being.

As research continues to show the reality of the relationship between marijuana and the developing brain, it is crucial to prioritize open and honest conversations about the potential consequences of early and regular cannabis use.

Peer pressure can significantly influence adolescent marijuana use. Teens may feel pressured to fit in, conform to social norms, or bond with friends who use marijuana, making it harder to resist. Equipping teens with knowledge and refusal skills is crucial to help them navigate peer pressure.

Substance Abuse and Brain Development

A region essential for learning and memory, is particularly susceptible to the effects of cannabis use in adolescents6. Marijuana use may have long-term consequences on the functioning of the hippocampus, potentially affecting an individual’s ability to learn and retain new information.

How Does Adolescent Marijuana Use Alter Brain Structure?

Adolescent substance abuse, including the use of marijuana, has been consistently linked to impairments in cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and learning. The effects of cannabis on the developing brain can be particularly detrimental during this critical period of neural growth and refinement.

  • Regular cannabis use during the teenage years has been shown to impact cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and learning7. These effects may have long-term consequences, potentially persisting into adulthood and affecting an individual’s academic and occupational functioning.
  • The age at which an adolescent begins using marijuana may play a significant role in the severity of cognitive impairments. Earlier onset of cannabis use has been associated with greater deficits in attention, memory, and executive functioning compared to later onset of use.
  • Marijuana use may have a particularly detrimental effect on working memory, which is essential for holding and manipulating information in the short term. Working memory impairment can have far-reaching consequences, affecting adolescents’ ability to learn, reason, and problem-solve effectively.
  • The effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain may also extend to other cognitive domains, such as processing speed and verbal fluency. These impairments can make it more difficult for teens to keep up with the demands of school and social interactions.

Ultimately, promoting healthy brain development and minimizing the risks associated with marijuana use should be a priority for parents, educators, and healthcare providers alike.

Long Term Effects

The effects of cannabis on the developing brain during adolescence can have far-reaching consequences that extend well beyond the teenage years. Studies have suggested that the brain alterations resulting from marijuana use during this critical period may persist into adulthood, highlighting the potential for long-term impacts on mental health and cognitive functioning.

Persistent Brain Alterations and Mental Health Risks: Prolonged alterations in brain structure and function, as well as an increased risk for psychiatric disorders, have been observed in adults with a history of adolescent cannabis use8. Marijuana’s effects on the adolescent brain may have long-term consequences that influence mental health throughout life. The age at which an adolescent begins using cannabis can significantly impact the severity and persistence of these effects. Early use has been linked to greater changes in brain structure and function, as well as increased risk for substance use disorders and psychiatric conditions in adulthood.

Cognitive Impairments and Life Trajectory: The long-term effects of adolescent marijuana use on cognitive functioning are also a significant concern. Studies have found that individuals who use cannabis heavily during their teenage years may experience persistent deficits in attention, memory, and executive functioning, even after prolonged periods of abstinence.

The effects of marijuana on brain development in adolescents may have implications for an individual’s overall life trajectory. Impairments in cognitive functioning and increased risk for mental health problems can impact educational attainment, occupational success, and social relationships, potentially limiting an individual’s opportunities and quality of life in the long run.

Key takeaways 📝

The Importance of Prevention and Early Intervention

Understanding the long-term consequences of cannabis use on the teenage brain can help develop targeted strategies to promote healthy brain development and minimize the risk of mental health and cognitive impairments.

Prevention efforts should educate youth about how using marijuana may affect brain structure and function, as well as the potential long-term impacts on learning, memory, attention, and mental health. Early intervention strategies, such as screening for substance use and providing access to evidence-based treatments, are crucial for identifying and supporting at-risk adolescents.

Reach Out For The Help You need

At Cornerstone Healing Center, we understand the unique challenges faced by teenagers and their families when it comes to substance use. Our team of experienced and compassionate clinicians is dedicated to providing evidence-based, adolescent-focused treatment and support services tailored to the specific needs of each individual and family.

Whether you’re seeking information, assessment, or treatment, we’re here to help. Contact Cornerstone Healing Center today to learn more about our programs and services, and to take the first step towards protecting the health and well-being of the adolescents in your life. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of our youth and build a brighter, healthier future for all.

Share this Article

Author & Reviewers

susana spiegel recovery writer and SEO expert
RECOVERY WRITER & ADVOCATE

Susana is a recovery writer and advocate with over 8 years in addiction recovery. She is passionate about sharing accurate and helpful information about mental health, addiction, and recovery. She holds a Bachelor’s in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University and has over 7 years of working in the addiction field. 

lionel estrada lisac clinical director
CLINICAL DIRECTOR & REVIEWER

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s Scottsdale treatment facilities. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges; he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues.

More From Our Resources

Can a DUI Get You Deported?

Can a DUI Get You Deported?

Can a DUI get you deported? For non-citizens, a DUI conviction can lead to severe consequences beyond fines, license suspension,…
How Marijuana Alters Brain Development

How Marijuana Alters Brain Development

As marijuana legalization sweeps across the nation, it's more important than ever to understand the potential risks associated with its…
Can a DUI Affect Your Job?

Can a DUI Affect Your Job?

A DUI conviction can have far-reaching effects on your professional life, making it important to understand the potential ramifications and…

Get Started Now

Call and speak with one of our caring team members about Addiction or Mental Health help for you or a loved one.