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‘Harmless’ cannabis a dangerous misnomer for adolescents

August 18, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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In spite of some particularly creative cases to the contrary presented by teenagers she has spoken with, cannabis use does, in fact, pose serious, long-term health risks for adolescents, Jennifer Golick, LMFT, PhD, told attendees at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders on Thursday in Denver.

“Most people don’t really understand what cannabis is today,” said Golick, clinical director at Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services. “Most people consider cannabis as we knew it in the Summer of Love in Golden Gate Park.”

To wit: The THC concentration in marijuana in the 1960s was about 2% to 5%. Today, it has soared to between 20% and 30%. Moreover, butane hash oil (BHO), used in electronic vaping devices, has a THC concentration of up to 90%.

It’s a particularly dangerous situation for adolescents, whose CB1 receptors are selectively activated for healthy brain structure development. Cannabis use can create disruptions in development that alter the structure and function of brain regions that control emotion, thought, memory and social interaction, Golick said.

To illustrate how perilous marijuana usage in early adolescence can be, Golick shared the results of a study of children born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1972 and 1973 until they reached age 38. Participants who began smoking in early adolescence and were diagnosed as being addicted to cannabis by age 38 experienced an average IQ drop of 8 points in early adulthood. Notably, participants who began smoking marijuana after the age of 18 experienced no significant decline.