Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disease that changes the normal, healthy functioning of the brain apart from causing other harmful consequences. Marijuana or cannabis is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States, with most people using it for the first time in their teens.
As marijuana impairs the brain’s ability to form new memories, it can affect the brain system of young adults that is still maturing. A regular use of marijuana by teenagers is associated with an altered reward system, increasing the likelihood that the person will get addicted to other drugs such as heroin, when given an opportunity. Other symptoms of cannabis abuse include rapid heartbeat, disorientation, and lack of physical coordination, often followed by depression or sleepiness.
According to a 2015 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), illicit drug use in the U.S. has been consistently increasing. In a 2013 survey, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older (9.4 percent of the population) were found to use an illicit drug in a month prior to the survey. In 2013, there were just over 2.8 million new users of illicit drugs, or about 7,800 new users per day.
Effect of cannabis on brain
A 2015 study, led by Dr. Amelia Arria, associate professor of behavioral and community health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, suggests smoking cannabis in teens is linked with serious brain abnormalities, which can also affect their grades in school. Smoking marijuana by kids leads to lower intelligence and poorer focus, leading to lower grades and dropping out of high school.
Students who smoke marijuana have lower attention span and memory, and thus they may not be functioning at their best in schools and colleges, the study said. The effect of the drug can last for days or weeks, so students tend to skip more lectures and tutorials, with studies taking a backseat. Notably, those who didn’t attend lectures regularly got lower grades and even graduated later than those who attended.
The researchers observed 1,100 students from the University of Maryland for eight years, starting from their first year of university. In the first year, 37 percent students were reportedly found to smoke marijuana at least once in the past 30 days – six days of the month on an average. Unsurprisingly, the students appeared to skip lectures more often with significant rise in marijuana abuse, in turn leading to lower grades and a longer time to graduate. On the contrary, their grades tended to pick up with a reduction in cannabis use.
“When students go to an academic assistance office, rarely does anyone ask them about alcohol or drug use,” said Dr. Arria. “Students often see marijuana as benign. But if you ask them questions like, “How often are you smoking marijuana, drinking, partying?” that alone may help them be more self-reflective and make better choices,” she added.
In the study, published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, the researchers suggested the link between taking the drug and missing lectures must be well understood by students, parents, universities and policymakers.
Path to recovery
A teen who abuses cannabis for a longer period is likely to experience various problems, including lower school grades, because the drug can alter the normal functioning of the brain. Aggression is also almost a definite byproduct of prolonged drug abuse. Hallucination is a common phenomenon for those under the influence of drugs, and in extreme cases suicidal thoughts also may occur.