Social tolerance of cannabis use is higher than ever, but it is no time for complacency. A recent conference in Dublin organised by The Addiction Group at the Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, TCD, highlighted the effects of cannabis use on the teenage brain, and gave insight into the current wave of research aimed at predicting use in young people.
In the last couple of years, the debate around cannabis use has changed from the old quarrel over what 'class' of drug it is legally, moving towards the possible medical benefits of cannabis - more specifically the active chemical cannabidiol - on the basis that it may have a positive role to play in the treatment of physical and mental ailments. We have heard wonder-stories around the use of cannabidiol (otherwise known as CBD), for chronic pain, epilepsy, anxiety, depression, insomnia and more. There is clearly work to be done in establishing exactly what CBD has to offer. But there is also the risk that enthusiasm for the possible benefits will outweigh caution around the known harms.
Right now, cannabis is illegal in Ireland for recreational purposes, and use for medical purposes is approved on a case-by-case basis. However, there is, broadly speaking, much greater tolerance for cannabis use than there used to be, and there are valid reasons for that. But the debate tends not to take into account the effects of cannabis on what is an at-risk section of the population, namely teenagers.
There is sufficient evidence to show that cannabis has a greater effect on the brains of teenagers than adult users. As Professor Hugh Garavan, University of Vermont and formally Associate Professor of Psychology, Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, says, "there's a good body of animal research showing this. The teenage brain is more plastic (ie, can change more) which is why teens can learn skills so quickly. But the downside of being so plastic is that their brains may be more susceptible to detrimental influences. The brain` has cannabinoid receptors (where cannabis binds/has its effects in the brain) and the numbers of these receptors increases a lot during puberty so the teenage brain may be especially sensitive to cannabis's effects."
As for whether those effects are necessarily harmful - that is more difficult to prove. "Demonstrating causation is really hard," Prof Garavan explains. "Most research compares users to non-users, but this type of research (known as cross-sectional research) is always going to be ambiguous. Any observed difference (eg, a cognitive impairment in the users) could have arisen from the use, or could have preceded the cannabis use (some pre-existing risk factor for use such as poor impulse control) or could just be correlated and unrelated (eg, maybe wealthier kids have the cash to buy cannabis so a whole bunch of factors related to being wealthier could be correlated with use but would not have caused or arisen from the use)."
Source: Independent.ie, 27/01/2020