Young people who smoke marijuana may be at risk of “major” changes to the area of the brain that regulates motivation, a new study claims.
Our full report on the study, carried out by researchers from Harvard University and Northwestern Medicine, can be found here.
One expert said that the study challenged the idea that “casual” marijuana use is harmless.
Is society on the whole too relaxed about the threats posed by weed?
You don’t have to think like Peter Hitchens, author of a book called ‘The War we Never Fought: The British Establishment’s Surrender to Drugs’, to believe that the decriminalisation of drugs – a cause célèbre of much of the left – has a number of downsides that tend to get brushed aside. In fact, all you have to do is watch South Park. In this Reddit thread, full of long-time weed-smokers regretting their habit, South Park’s Randy is quoted approvingly: “Well son, pot makes you feel fine with being bored and... It's when you're bored that you should be learning some new skill or discovering some new science or... being creative. If you smoke pot you may grow up to find out that you aren't good at anything."
Yes, it’s just an anecdote. But it fits the data recorded in this latest study, and backs up a number of others that have found links between smoking marijuana and stunting young brains. A major piece of research in 2012 found that teens who smoked regularly before the age of 18 were likely to end up with significantly lower IQs than non-toking peers. Patrick Cockburn has written powerfully for the Independent on the links between smoking weed and schizophrenia, a condition his son developed. Weed is not harmless fun. It damages young brains. The trend towards decriminalisation should worry parents, lawmakers, and schoolchildren picking up their first joint.
Cannabis around the world
Cannabis around the world
Farmers destroy cannabis plantations under Moroccan police supervision in the northern Moroccan Larache region, pictured here in 2006
Growing business: Cannabis on sale at River Rock Wellness
Oaksterdam in Oakland, California, is the world's only university dedicated to the study and cultivation of cannabis
Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images
A cannabis smoker marks the start of the new law by the Space Needle in Seattle
Cannabis growing wild in China, where it has been used to treat conditions such as gout and malaria
Uruguay has voted to make the country the first to legalize marijuana
A groundswell of support from the public led to full legalisation in Colorado
A man smokes licenced medicinal marijuana prior to participating in the annual Hemp Parade, or 'Hanfparade', in support of the legalization of marijuana in Germany on August 7, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. The consumption of cannabis in Germany is legal, though all other aspects, including growing, importing or selling it, are not. However, since the introduction of a new law in 2009, the sale and possession of marijuana for licenced medicinal use is legal.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The UK latest figures show 2.3 million people used cannabis in the last year
Tourists visiting Amsterdam will not be banned from using the city’s famous cannabis cafes
These 25 cannabis plants, seized in Merseyside police, could have generated a turnover of £40,000 a year
12/13 San Francisco
April 20, 2012: People smoke marijuana joints at 4:20 p.m. as thousands of marijuana advocates gathered at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. The event was held on April 20, a date corresponding with a numerical 4/20 code widely known within the cannabis subculture as a symbol for all things marijuana.
A cannabis users' association will pay the town of Rasquera more than €600,000 a year for the lease of the land
Dear oh dear. Binge drinking is the nation’s national pastime, and has been for decades, and yet all we hear about from the media is the threat posed by the ‘devil weed’. Do you think drinking a dozen Bacardi Breezers doesn’t have an effect on young brains too? Drink Aware says that boozing during adolescence can have a ‘long-term impact on memory, reactions and attention span’. Then of course there’s liver damage. But as a result of the hysteria whipped up by successive Western governments against ‘drugs’, we’re still more suspicious of some chemical highs than others.
That isn’t to discount the studies on marijuana (though we do need more evidence; the link with schizophrenia is by no means an accepted truth). But think of the positive side of marijuana use: it helps patients with chronic pain, for one. Before the establishment decided that – again, quoting South Park -“drugs are bad, mmmkay”, Queen Victoria was proscribed cannabis as relief for menstrual discomfort. Society is not ‘too lax’ about marijuana. Quite the opposite. By criminalising its use, you criminalise otherwise law-abiding, productive citizens (42.4 per cent of people aged 15-65 have smoked weed in the United States). And the racial disparity in drug arrests is frankly sickening: black people in the UK use fewer drugs than white people, but are charged for possession at 5 times the rate. These are the problems society is ‘too relaxed’ about.