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Recent Research On Youth Marijuana Use Harm

teen-marijuana

The question of whether marijuana use is harmful for youth elicits strong, opposing opinions (see: http://preventionpluswellness.com/2016/09/youth-marijuana-use/). 

Because of the divergent views on this issue, I reviewed research examining risks associated with youth marijuana use published during the last year. 

Below is a quick synopsis of findings from a small sample of recent studies, along with concluding comments for health and substance abuse professionals, parents, and lawmakers. 

Subclinical Psychotic Symptoms 

A longitudinal study of 1,009 boys published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that regular marijuana use among adolescents significantly increased persistent subclinical psychotic symptoms like paranoia and hallucinations during sustained abstinence. http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.15070878 

Early-Onset Use and Cognition 

A study of 74 youth in four groups published in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica found that early-onset marijuana use was associated with cognitive deficits like lower IQ several years after marijuana use began. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acps.12629/full 

Adverse Effects of Marijuana Use 

A literature review published in the Linacre Quarterly found that marijuana use can have a negative impact on physical, psychological, and psychosocial outcomes, particularly if it was more frequent and began at an earlier age. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00243639.2016.1175707 

Acute and Chronic Effects of Cannabinoids 

A review of empirical research published in Biological Psychiatry indicated that impaired verbal memory, attention, and some executive functions may persist after prolonged abstinence, and associations between poorer cognitive performance and younger age of onset were reported. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322315010379 

Hispanic Youth Substance Abuse Treatment 

A study examining data from the national Treatment Episode Data Set published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse found that increasing Hispanic youth marijuana admissions to substance abuse treatment programs was associated with youth ages 15-17 years old, and female admissions are increasing at a greater rate than males.http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15332640.2015.1108256 

Alcohol and Marijuana Use Trajectories in Adolescents 

A longitudinal study of 6905 middle school students published in the journal Addiction found that youth with a higher intercept for marijuana use reported greater academic unpreparedness, delinquency, poorer academic performance, and poorer mental health in high school.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.13442/abstract 

Risky Sexual Behavior Among Justice-Involved Youth 

A study of 569 adolescents on probation published in AIDS and Behavior found that alcohol and marijuana use predicted 56% of sexual risk (condom use and intercourse) among the sample, while marijuana and hard drug use predicted 23% of sexual risk in the sample.  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10461-015-1219-3 

Alcohol and Marijuana Outcomes in Urban Young Adults 

A longitudinal study of 678 urban, predominantly Black children published in Addictive Behaviors found that heavy use of both alcohol and marijuana was associated with the most negative outcomes in young adulthood, and marijuana use with moderate levels of alcohol was associated with more negative outcomes than alcohol use without marijuana consumption, including increased risk of a criminal justice record and developing substance use dependence. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460315300435 

Adolescent Cannabis Use and Young Adult Social and Behavioral Adjustment 

A longitudinal study 852 Australian youth published in Addictive Behaviors found that early onset users had a higher frequency of antisocial behavior, violence, cannabis use, cannabis-related harms, cigarette use, and alcohol harm, whereas late onset occasional users reported a higher frequency of cannabis use, cannabis-related harms, illicit drug use, and alcohol harm compared to the abstinent group in young adulthood. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460315300198 

Risk of Marijuana Use Disorder 

An analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that a significant proportion of marijuana users, especially youth, were at risk for having a marijuana use disorder at even relatively low levels of use.  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/00952990.2016.1164711 

Conclusions 

Over 5,000 papers were found in a Google search of youth marijuana harm in 2016.  I reviewed a small, random sample of these studies to get a quick, current picture of the youth marijuana harm landscape. 

In summary, recent research found that youth marijuana use is associated with increased:  

  • impaired verbal memory, attention, executive function, academic unpreparedness, delinquency, poorer academic performance, and poorer mental health. 
  • admissions for substance abuse treatment, of adolescent Hispanics. 
  • persistent subclinical psychotic symptoms like paranoia and hallucinations during sustained abstinence, with regular use.   
  • risk for experiencing a marijuana use disorder, even at a relatively low level of use. 
  • cognitive deficits and frequency of antisocial behavior, violence, cannabis use, cannabis-related harms, cigarette use, and alcohol harm, for early-onset users. 
  • frequency of cannabis use, cannabis-related harms, illicit drug use, and alcohol harm, for late-onset occasional users. 
  • sexual risk taking among youth on probation, when marijuana was used along with alcohol or hard drugs. 
  • risk of a criminal justice record and developing substance use dependence, for urban youth that use marijuana and alcohol versus just alcohol. 

These findings, which are limited to a small sample of research published just this year, indicate that marijuana use poses real and significant risks to the physical and mental health, and social well-being of youth and young adults.    

This research evidence suggests, as I have posted earlier, that strong, immediate action is required by our health and substance abuse professionals and organizations, parents, and lawmakers to protect the health of youth by reducing marijuana use now, before it becomes a national and worldwide epidemic (see: http://preventionpluswellness.com/2016/09/prevent-youth-marijuana-epidemic/). 


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