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The Dangers of Smoking Marijuana at a Young Age

Over the years, cannabis or marijuana use has grown to become mainstream, especially in Canada and some American states where it’s been legalized for recreational and medicinal purposes. Despite its purported benefits, the long-term effects of marijuana are still a major cause of concern, particularly for teenagers who are exposed to it at such a young age.

Marijuana Use Among Teens in Canada

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) is the longest-running school survey of adolescents in Canada and one of the longest-running in the world. 

Below are some notable facts about marijuana use among adolescents, according to its recent 2019 survey:

  • 1 in every 5 (22%) students in Grade 7 to 12 used marijuana in the past year. 
  • At least 2% admit to using marijuana every day, representing 20,700 students in Ontario.
  • The most common methods of consuming marijuana are smoking it in a joint (21%), smoking it using a pipe or bong (19%), and eating cannabis-infused edibles like brownies or candies (14%).
  • 1 in 7 students said they used marijuana with alcohol on at least one occasion in the past year.  
  • The majority of the users in the past year identified their friends as a common source of marijuana. Peer pressure is one of the many contributing factors to substance use and addiction. 

Teens at a party passing a joint around

How Does Smoking Marijuana Affect You?

The gravity of marijuana’s effects primarily depends on the user’s age and the THC’s potency—the cannabinoid responsible for getting you high. Younger users who are using high-potency THC strains are more susceptible to severe physical and physiological consequences. 

The method of consumption also matters. Inhalation through smoking dried cannabis buds through hand pipes, joints, or blunts, or through vaping cannabis concentrates is a classic favourite among users because it delivers euphoric effects within minutes. Other methods like consuming edibles may take as long as 30 minutes before you notice its intoxicating effects to kick in because it goes through the body’s digestive system before reaching the bloodstream.

Immediate, negative short-term effects of marijuana use includes:

  • Confusion and memory problems
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Reduced inhibitions leading to risky behaviours
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Sudden hunger pangs (munchies)
  • Heightened sense of smell, touch, or taste
  • Distorted sense of time and reality
  • Disrupted motor control (“the couch effect”)

The Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Use in Teens

In 2014, senior members of the National Institute on Drug Abuse published an article in The New England Journal of Medicine delving deeper into the long-term effects of marijuana use among adolescents. Based on its key findings, regular cannabis use in teens can lead to long-lasting side effects, which are often irreversible and can be carried into adulthood. 

The study listed down several marijuana effects on the brain and body, including:

Cognitive Damage 

A young person’s developing brain is significantly vulnerable to the adverse effects of THC, which can wreak havoc on otherwise healthy brain development. Researchers noted that adults who smoked marijuana starting their teens have fewer neural fibres in various parts of the brain and have lower IQ. Young marijuana users are also characteristically more disinterested in school and have a greater likelihood of dropping out than their peers.

Group of friends studying, female in red sweater looking bored

Impaired Driving Ability 

Beyond the high brought by marijuana to its users, it also dramatically affects one’s level of concentration, depth perception, muscle coordination, sense of reality, decision making, and natural reflexes. 

Hence, it’s not surprising that immediate and long-term exposure to marijuana has also been linked to poor driving performance. It’s the most commonly reported illicit drug connected to impaired driving and accidents, including fatal ones. Research also suggests the risk heightens when marijuana is consumed with even a little bit of alcohol.

Increased Risk of Mental Illness 

Studies have long established that marijuana in high doses can trigger panic attacks or acute psychosis such as hallucinations, paranoia, and anxiety disorders in individuals who have an existing mental health disorder or are genetically inclined to have one. Chronic marijuana use in adolescence has also been associated with a heightened risk of developing depression and schizophrenia.

Poorer Quality of Life and Satisfaction

In connection with the long-term effects of marijuana use being linked to altering brain development, teenage users are also found to be more likely to end up in poverty with low-income jobs and unhappy with how their lives turned out as adults compared to the general population. This is due to the reduced chances of graduating in teens who smoke marijuana vs. nonsmokers. 

Black and white photo of depressed teen sitting in a curb

Marijuana Addiction in Teens

Another concerning aspect of teenage marijuana use is the potential risk of developing a drug addiction. Contrary to popular belief, cannabis can be highly addictive like any other drug or substance. Although addiction can start at any age, young people are more vulnerable because their brains are still developing.

In the 2019 OSDUHS Survey, at least 3% of high school students or approximately 20,500 students in Grade 9 to 12 reported experiencing symptoms of cannabis dependence, as measured by the Severity of Dependence Scale.

Unfortunately, studies have found that marijuana can also serve as a gateway drug, prompting users to explore other illicit substances, therefore leading to more serious drug addictions. Marijuana use has also been linked to nicotine addiction. 

A twin study in adolescent rats showed that early exposure to cannabis decreases brain dopamine reward centers’ reactivity in adult life. When applied to humans, this explains the proclivity of some people who started using marijuana when they were young to develop an addiction to other substances. 

Marijuana Addiction Treatment Toronto

Is your teenager struggling with cannabis dependence or marijuana addiction? Let Freedom From Addiction help you. We are one of the most innovative recovery homes in Canada, equipped with a team of healthcare professionals and addiction specialists who are experienced and knowledgeable in providing individualized treatment options for each of our clients. 

As with any addiction, we believe early intervention can be life-changing. Allow us to guide you or your loved one to overcome the long-term effects of marijuana addiction and work towards a life of healing and recovery.

To learn more about our marijuana addiction treatment, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. A member of our team will get back to you shortly. Contact us today!

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