It’s really no big surprise, is it? There is growing evidence that pot smoking is harmful to the developing brains of adolescents. The frontal lobe is developing rapidly during adolescents. The brain is also undergoing pruning during this period. Connections that aren’t being used are being eliminated, making processing more rapid and efficient.
So what happens if these processes are impaired due to substance use?
As presented in a recent piece on NPR, Kristal Lisdahl, director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee brain imaging and neuropsychology, is increasingly convinced from her research that regular marijuana use – once a week or more — actually changes the structure of the teenage brain, specifically in areas dealing with memory and problem solving. “That can affect cognition and academic performance”, she says. “And, indeed, we see if we look at actual grades that chronic marijuana using teens do have, on average, one grade point lower than their matched peers that don’t smoke pot,” Lisdahl says.
Lisdahl argues that its a mistake for teens to use marijuana: “It’s the absolute worst time,” she says, because the mind-altering drug can disrupt development. Think of the teen years, she says, as the “last golden opportunity to make the brain as healthy and smart as possible.”
Of course, the other mind-alterer commonly used or abused by teens – alcohol – is no picnic either. Studies have shown negative impacts of teen alcohol use on the brain and on many aspects of cognition – attention, memory, executive function, and so on.
Open lines are communication between adolescents and parents are vital for prevention. But communication with parents is not always of strength of the teen brain either, no?
If you have concerns about pot or alcohol use by your teen and don’t know what to do, give us a call. You can sit down with one of our psychologists, talk it over, see if we can help.