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December 17, 2013

What are the best and worst drugs for daily use by teens?

The title of this post is the (perhaps silly) question that came to my mind upon reading this new report on some new research headlined "Heavy Pot Use Linked To Memory Loss, Schizophrenia Link."  Here are the basics:

Heavy pot users — smoking marijuana daily for three years — had abnormal changes in their brain structures related to working memory, U.S. researchers say.  Lead study author Matthew Smith, an assistant research professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said poor working memory predicts poor academic performance and everyday functioning.

The groups in the study started using marijuana daily at ages 16 to 17 for about three years.  At the time of the study, they had been marijuana free for about two years. Almost 100 subjects participated, including matched groups of healthy controls, subjects with a marijuana use disorder, schizophrenia subjects with no history of substance use disorders and schizophrenia subjects with a marijuana use disorder. The subjects who used marijuana did not abuse any other drugs, the researchers said.

Of the 15 marijuana smokers who had schizophrenia in the study, 90 percent started heavily using marijuana before they developed the mental disorder. Marijuana abuse has been linked to developing schizophrenia in prior research, Smith said.

“The abuse of popular street drugs, such as marijuana, might have dangerous implications for young people who are developing or have developed mental disorders,” said co-senior study author Dr. John Csernansky of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“This paper is among the first to reveal that the use of marijuana may contribute to the changes in brain structure that have been associated with having schizophrenia.”... The paper was published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Modern brain science research has long had me convinced that it would be wise for everyone under the age of 25 to avoid all dangerous substances while their brains are still developing.  Consequently, I am not at all surprised by a finding that daily use of marijuana could hurts developing brains.  I wonder, though, whether it is likely to hurt developing brains more than daily use of alcohol or even some prescription drugs.

That said, I hope the relaxation of modern marijuana laws in many jurisdictions will facilitate a lot more serious scientific research on the various potential harms and benefits of the use and abuse of this widely-used and seemingly widely under-researched drug.

Cross posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.

December 17, 2013 at 05:58 PM | Permalink


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Syphilis used to be number 1 cause of state hospital chronic hospitalizations. It came from too much sex with floozies.

Now it is alcohol.

No doubt the above study of marijuana is true. Long before brain damage would have occurred, the daily smoking of marijuana would have been considered excessive, and would have interfered with many other functions, such as work, school, family relationships.

I have suggested the issuing of an Adult Pleasure License. I admit to having called for 14 to be the new age of adulthood, as it had been for 10,000 years of civilization, with its being endorsed by nature as the age capable of reproduction (the biological definition of adulthood).

I have also described the dose response curve. It describes insufficient effect at too low doses, desirable effects at the correct dosage range, and the toxic effects at high dosage ranges. That curve likely describes all remedies, including legal ones. Lax enforcement leads to harm from others, correct enforcement leads to quiet productivity and desirable societies, and excessive enforcement leads to oppression, fear and disaster.

Here is the toxic end of water ingestion, called water intoxication, leading to loss of consciousness, seizures, and even death. Should water be banned? No. The drinking of excess water should be banned, even if habitual or in a mentally ill person.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 17, 2013 8:30:38 PM

Is is as likely if not more likely that someone developing schizophrenia would use mj to self-medicate before it is diagnosed. If so, mj is a consequence, not a cause. Another unanswered is if mj is helpful or harmful to schizophrenia.

Posted by: George | Dec 17, 2013 8:49:19 PM

This study is all ....? Oh Yeah, I meant to say .... Oh I forgot but I'm sure it will come back to me.

Posted by: albeed | Dec 18, 2013 9:10:56 AM

“I am not at all surprised by a finding that daily use of marijuana could hurts developing brains. ..
That said, I hope the relaxation of modern marijuana laws in many jurisdictions will facilitate a lot more serious scientific research..” – D. Berman

To tell you the same thing? The jury’s in and you’ve read the verdict.
Just don’t feel guilty; it’s not as though you’ve advocated “the relaxation”.

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 18, 2013 9:38:14 AM

I don't recall Doug advocating relaxation for marijuana laws for teens, Adamkis, but for adults. Perhaps you can point to the posts where he said otherwise? Also, "may contribute" is a long way from "the jury's in and you've read the verdict."

FWIW, when I was in high school back in the early '80s, it was easier to access marijuana than alcohol because alcohol, though legal, was regulated. The legal vendors wouldn't sell you booze, but you could buy pot in the boy's bathroom. For exactly that reason, IMO legalizing and regulating pot will reduce teens' access over time as legal markets displace black ones. Think pot is harmful to teens? Legalize and regulate it so it will be harder for them to acquire.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Dec 18, 2013 10:04:14 AM

"under the age of 25 to avoid all dangerous substances while their brains"

Alcohol and cigarettes are dangerous too. I think the idea those under 25 (!) will "avoid" all dangerous substances is akin to saying it's ideal if everyone became a vegan. I think a realistic approach is to avoid "heavy" usage. The excerpt referenced "heavy" pot smokers. OTOH, that too is a pipe dream given the tendencies of the age group, which are inclined to go overboard. Once the age passes, there is a much lower desire to the heavy usage. A bit ironic.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 18, 2013 12:35:10 PM

We do have so little evidence based research, unless you do your own you can't know much about the validity of a study. We surely should not make law based on most of it.

This study was done at Northwestern, I think under the auspices of the Stone Institute of Psychiatry. One of the funding agents was the National Institute of Drug Abuse whose mission is to inform the public of the dangers of illegal drugs.

This is taxpayer money and many people are employed in this department - not to mention the many ad agencies and publications that receive funding from them to warn us about these dangers.

Dr Csernansky and Dr Breiter of Northwestern are associated with a broad network of adolescent treatment centers. These centers benefit from mandated treatment admissions.

I know the article that was posted said there were 100 participants, but the actual number was 97.

Posted by: beth | Dec 18, 2013 2:15:15 PM

When the topic of smoking pot comes up the topic of smoking tobacco is ignored. Which poison kills more people? Cough, cough, which poison causes lung disease and disorder? If you smoke pot you are cast as some kind of hippie and if you smoke a cigarette you are cast as FDR in the back of his limo.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Dec 18, 2013 4:57:39 PM

Liberty1st --

Your logic is impeccable. When we already have a substance that's REALLY, REALLY bad for health, the best thing to do is increase the availability of another substance that's merely REALLY bad for health.

Gosh, why didn't I think of that?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 18, 2013 9:21:55 PM

Bill, your and Adamkis' logic is equally impeccable - follow it to its logical conclusion and we should re-institute alcohol prohibition, because THAT worked so well.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Dec 19, 2013 7:27:00 AM

Grits --

And the law keeping booze and cigarettes out of the hands of minors is working soooooooooooo well, now ain't it?

P.S. You recently accused me of anonymously posting on your blog. As has happened in the past with you, you're lying. I have never posted on your blog in any form or fashion, nor do I post anything on the Internet anonymously.

Kindly admit your lie and retract it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2013 7:11:49 PM

Grits --

What, no answer?

OK, fine, that's how it is: You make claims without evidence, the claims are (hardly surprisingly) false, you simultaneously impute cowardice to your adversaries, and when confronted with this, you............run away.

Well that's so cool!

I can't wait for your next screed on the dishonesty and other moral deficiencies of those who won't toe your line. You're giving hypocrisy a bad name.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 21, 2013 12:34:49 PM


You "ran away" from many of my direct replies to you on many occasions. If you ask for them, I will go back and find them.

Just knock it off! Your attacks say more about you than anything Grits could say about you, you selective big government apologist.

Posted by: albeed | Dec 21, 2013 3:51:48 PM

albeed --

At some point, you might see the irony of a guy who refuses to use his name upbraiding, for "running away," a guy who identifies himself every time.

Not that it makes a difference. I have never lied about you. Grits, on the other hand, lies through his teeth about me (and other things). He claimed that I have anonymously posted on his blog. I have never posted a word on his blog and do not post anonymously at all. When called upon to admit what he's doing and retract it, he simply walks away. Such are his "standards."

I guess you approve. Go right ahead.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 21, 2013 10:23:54 PM

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