A UK charity survey has brought the YoungMinds organization to call for more research into the effects of cannibas on the developing minds of teenagers and indications that it may increase the development of psychosis. In a BBC News report, Cannabis ‘affecting young minds’, chief executive Barbara Herts is raising concerns that the effects of cannibas use at a young age is not well enough understood and the survey supports the urgent need for more investigation.
Last May in a post on Another Battle in the Bush War on Science, regarding the Bush administration proposed discontinuation of the National Children’s study, I noted one of the important new reasons for carrying out that study:
New knowledge on how the teenage brain follows the last major developmental stage from 14 -16, by destroying thousands of synaptic pathways has indicated why psychological problems, especially schizophrenia, surface at this time. There is still a huge amount of research work to be done on this and going back to before birth will give us the clearest answers.
Let’s be clear on terms. An earlier BBC article quotes Dr Philip Robson, Director of the Cannabinoid Research Institute, on Cannabis and psychosis:
Terms like psychotic symptom, psychosis, schizophrenia, represent very different things but they seem sometimes to be used interchangeably.
A psychotic symptom is really a misinterpretation of reality. So for example, if I think someone is looking at me strangely, but there’s no evidence for that, that could be psychotic symptom. A psychosis is a bunch of those symptoms which causes me to lose touch with reality.
And then schizophrenia is at the other end of the scale as the most devastating psychosis, one which is involved with abnormalities of perception, emotion, thought, motivation, motor function, which devastates people’s lives and has a terrible prognosis. [Emphasis added]
Although at the time, Robson was discounting the idea of a connection, the further understanding of the teenage brain development was yet to be reported. The new survey has brought more information into the picture. Herts explains:
“We are extremely concerned that there is still very little known about the effects of cannabis on the developing teenage brain and it is crucial that more studies are carried out in this area.”
She said virtually all of the research on both short and longer-term cognitive effects has been conducted on adults.
This is a problem as the young, developing brain could be much more vulnerable to its effects,
Ms Herts said studies show young people who use cannabis regularly or heavily are at least twice as likely to develop a psychotic mental disorder by young adulthood than those who do not smoke.
Psychosis is a type of mental health problem, which includes conditions like schizophrenia, that can seriously affect the way you think, feel and behave.
She said: “Young people, their parents and the professionals working with them need to understand the issues surrounding cannabis use and the potential dangers to their mental health and wellbeing.”
Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, regarding a new TV ad warning young people on the danger said:
“Although cannabis use has been falling among young people over recent years, and is now at its lowest level for nearly a decade [UK stats], we cannot be complacent.
“There is evidence that cannabis not only worsens existing mental health problems but may trigger – although the risk is thought to be small – some conditions such as schizophrenia.”
Overall, America has a destructive and unhelpful attitude towards mental illness and it’s treatment. Recently a study showed that a majority of drunk drivers who had caused serious accidents had underlying, untreated mental health conditions. Alcohol and drugs have long been the choice of self medication for those suffering from undiagnosed and treated mental illness. While anyone can potentially transition to abuse or addiction given enough problems, recreational drug use is different from the escape of mental illness.
Personally, I avoided illegal drugs because of the possibility that getting caught would abruptly destroy the future of a career I did not want to lose, and the financial stability it gave me. I have long believed that the War on Drugs is misguided and the overuse of jail time has added an unnecessary burden to the Justice system, not to mention destroying lives that could have been redirected. There’s a big difference between using a recreational drug and committing a crime while using a drug. As in killing or seriously wounding people with a vehicle you have lost control of. The latter deserves charges, a trial, sentence and jail time.
That said, I strongly believe that we do not teach our children or adequately promote healthy choices in growing up. Childhood development lays the physical, emotional and mental foundation for the rest of life. Taking risks with nutrition, drugs, sex and dangerous physical activities can lower the quality of those remaining decades to nightmare consequences. The risk may be small – until you fall into the statistical pool. Then it doesn’t matter how small it is.