Marijuana: a crucial matter of the mind

Wyatt Waters, Opinion Editor

Everyone’s heard something outlandish about marijuana before. “You can’t get addicted to it,” someone might claim, or “It’s safe because it’s legalized.” Regardless of the specific myth, many teens buy into gross misconceptions about using and consuming marijuana or other cannabis products. This puts a youth’s most valuable aspect, their growing and developing brain, at risk for permanent damage, according to the National Institutes of Health and the American Psychological Association.
The debate about marijuana has persisted in society for decades, with much of that discussion focusing on how marijuana affects the body. During this time, many opponents of marijuana claimed that it damaged the heart, or that it lowers IQ by an average of eight points. As time has passed and countless studies have been conducted by authorities such as the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, many of these claims have been proven false or weak. There is, however, an aspect of the drug that has received far less attention: the mental and cognitive effects on teenage users.
As most people know, short-term use of marijuana impairs depth perception and response time, and the chemical THC creates a “high” that makes people feel euphoric for several hours or more. While there is nothing false about this description of the effects of marijuana, it is also not entirely accurate. Many people can also experience an extreme sense of fear or panic, and, since teen users cannot buy from state-regulated stores, marijuana purchased illegally often contains chemicals or other substances that can have unpredictable and dangerous effects.
In the long-term, the known effects become less clear, but research is slowly approaching the consensus that there are long-term effects to using marijuana. Despite claims that it is impossible to become addicted to marijuana, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports 17% of youth who use the drug develop an addiction. Furthermore, the use of marijuana as a minor inhibits the brain developments that occur at this age, potentially impacting mental and cognitive functions permanently. More than ever, this research affirms that “legal” does not mean safe, for while the legal age to use marijuana is 21, a person’s brain continues to develop until he or she is 25.
Consequently, considering both the short-term and long-term negative effects of marijuana, teens should be highly discouraged from using it, even at a low frequency. During this critical point in any person’s life, the healthy development of a person is far too important to put in jeopardy for the sake of something as relatively trivial as marijuana. While it may not have dramatic impacts like heroin or cocaine, the choice to use marijuana is still one that nobody should take lightly, for it may have profound impacts on the rest of one’s life.