by Kelly Vazquez, age 16
Since the late 1930s, cannabis, otherwise known as marijuana, has been a topic of great debate in the United States. Currently, many states have legalized marijuana or decriminalized it for recreational and medical use. Despite the growing movement to legalize recreational use for adults, Matthew Albaugh, professor at University of Vermont, explains that it can still be harmful for young users. He stated,“Brain areas that change the most during adolescence may be especially vulnerable to cannabis exposure.” There have been significant studies that indicate cannabis having brain altering effects on humans.
Albaugh and his team conducted a study with 799 14-year-olds throughout four European countries: Germany, France, Ireland, and England. The kids received MRI scans and five years later, the study was repeated with the same kids. During the second MRI, 46% of them said they had tried cannabis; approximately 75% said they had used the substance 10 or more times. The study showed that there was quite a contrast between the prefrontal cortex (which is responsible for decisions, impulses, and focus) of those who used cannabis and those who didn’t. The prefrontal cortex had thinned faster for those who used cannabis than those who didn’t, even more so for those who used it frequently. These results have been somewhat inconsistent since researchers can’t experiment with real teenagers. However, results do add to the existing data that supports the claim that cannabis affects the brain's development.
Jacqueline-Marie Ferland, brain researcher at Icahn School of Medicine, explains that the thinning of the prefrontal cortex is often connected to maturing, decision making, rationality, and managing impulsivity; a properly matured prefrontal cortex can perform these functions. However, another study on young animals shows that thinning too early can cause long term problems with behavior and memory. [Read More]