Could teenagers smoke marijuana be risking their futures? A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal raises that troublesome possibility – especially for those who indulge in the drug daily before they are 17.
Australian and New Zealand researchers analyzed data on 3,765 young people who started using cannabis (the scientific name for marijuana) at an early age to see how the research subjects fared in several areas of life by the time they were 30. The results showed regular pot smokers were 60 percent less likely to have completed high school or obtained a college or university degree than peers who had never used the drug.
What’s more, those who used marijuana daily during their teen years were almost 20 times more likely to have developed a dependence on cannabis and were 8 times more likely to have used other illegal drugs as they grew older. To top off the bad news, young people who started using marijuana every day at a young age were 7 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those the same age who had never used the drug.
The researchers looked at factors besides marijuana (including age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, use of other drugs, and mental illness) to see if they could find other explanations for their findings. However, only daily use of marijuana was consistently linked to the negative outcomes in the young people studied. In addition, the research showed that the more marijuana young people used the worst impact the drug had on their lives.
"Our results provide strong evidence that the prevention or delay of cannabis use is likely to have broad health and social benefits. Efforts to reform cannabis legislation should be carefully assessed to ensure they reduce adolescent cannabis use and prevent potentially adverse effects on adolescent development,” said research team leader Edmund Silins of the University of New South Wales National Drug and Alcohol Research Center.
Another recent study uncovered a problem tied to marijuana usage by teens that could influence their ability to succeed -- excessive daytime sleepiness that can be mistaken for narcolepsy, a disorder characterized by daytime lapses into sleep. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that 43 percent of youngsters with symptoms of narcolepsy tested positive for marijuana when screened for the drug.
"We were most surprised by the fact that patients referred for evaluation for excessive daytime sleepiness who tested positive for marijuana were almost twice as likely to meet the objective criteria for narcolepsy," said principal investigator Samuel Dzodzomenyo, medical director of the pediatric sleep center at Dayton Children's Hospital and associate professor of pediatric neurology at Wright State University.
With more states passing laws to legalize the recreational or medicinal use of marijuana, Dzodzomenyo and his colleagues emphasized that doctors need to be aware that marijuana usage can cause symptoms leading to a misdiagnosis of narcolepsy. In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has suggested that drug screening may be indicated for young people tested at sleep centers to make sure excessive sleepiness is not induced by marijuana.
The latest national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted every two years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found a continued high rate of marijuana use among teens in the U.S. More than 40 percent of American adolescents reported they have used the drug at least once.
For teens and parents concerned about marijuana, the National Institute on Drug Abuse offers information and resources for help and support in stopping drug use.
March 20, 2015
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA