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Understanding the Effects of Marijuana on Developing Brains: Not an Innocuous Drug

Lately, there has been a lot of support surrounding the legalization of marijuana. As such, you may have seen media coverage claiming that marijuana is beneficial rather than harmful. Unfortunately, that sends the wrong image to certain populations, such as teenagers. There are more teens that smoke pot than there are teens who consume alcohol. Understanding the effects of marijuana on developing brains is of the utmost importance for all parents.

Getting to Know the Developing Brain

Contrary to widespread belief, a developing brain does not reach full development once a person turns 18. Instead, the brain develops throughout your teen years and through your early 20s. It is important to understand that a developing brain is vulnerable. If you are the parent of a teenager, you must realize that your teenager’s brain is vulnerable to certain exposures, particularly when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

When a young person smokes marijuana, they alter the connections in their brain. Changing the structure of the brain can lead to many negative side effects, particularly later in life. Marijuana can impair certain brain functions, such as:

  • Memory
  • Decision-making
  • Attention span
  • Learning

Initially, the effects can last for a few hours to a few days before wearing off. However, the effects may settle in for a longer period as usage of the drug continues or increases. Keep in mind that using marijuana can also alter a person’s mood. Long-term effects of marijuana on developing brains may lead to symptoms such as:

  • Decreased motivation
  • Decreased ambition
  • Secretive behavior
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty planning and completing long-term goals
  • Loss of interest in school/recreational activities
  • Outbursts of anger or agression
  • Changes to sleep patterns
  • Apathy
  • Diminished concern for the future

Although the behaviors listed above may seem alarming, bear in mind that your child’s brain is going through changes caused by the marijuana. Many parents have a tough time understanding the effects of marijuana on developing brains. As such, they have an even harder time trying to understand that their child’s behavior is caused by a drug rather than a lack of caring.

What to Watch For

There are certain key signs you can watch for that may let you know if your teen is using marijuana. Aside from the changes in behavior, you may also want to look for physical changes, which include:

  • Increased hunger (snacking more often)
  • Decreased coordination
  • Increased heart rate
  • Eyes that appear bloodshot

Make sure you also keep your eye out for anything that looks suspicious, such as paraphernalia. Items that may seem suspicious include:

  • Pipes
  • Small metal clips (commonly referred to as roach clips)
  • Rolling papers
  • Leafy debris
  • Eye droppers

Keep in mind that you may also notice a certain smell. If your teen recently smoked marijuana, you may notice a skunky smell. That skunky smell could indicate that your child is abusing marijuana.

What You Can Do About It

If you notice anything that indicates your child is abusing marijuana, you need to approach the situation with care. No one wants to have to sit down and talk to their child about marijuana, or any drug, but it is a must.

For starters, you should try to determine why it is that your child has decided to use marijuana. If you approach your child from a place of caring and curiosity, you are more likely to get answers. If you jump on the attack, your child is likely to withdraw from you and not tell you anything.

Prepare yourself to sit down and talk to your child. You must lay out your expectations, which should include a no drug policy. Let your teen know what consequences he or she will face if the drug use continues. Make sure you also provide facts and information as to the effects of marijuana on developing brains.

Simply telling your child not to smoke pot is not enough to put a stop to the problem. You should not attempt to use scare tactics, either. Communication that is both open and honest is your best line of when trying to help your teenager overcome an addiction to marijuana. Of course, it may seem difficult to talk to your teen.

If you are having trouble talking to your teenager, therapy is your best bet. A therapist can assist you in finding ways to communicate with your child effectively. Together, a therapist and your family can develop a plan to assist your child in breaking free from the effects of marijuana on developing brains.

Monica Ramunda is a solution-focused therapist with an office located in Louisville, Colorado for in-office visits. With a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and more than 16 years experience in therapy and counseling, Monica works as both a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Registered Play Therapist (RPT) with adults and children respectively. Much of Monica’s success is based on her eclectic orientation and drawing on a wide range of different approaches and techniques all while remaining strongly grounded in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT).