I came across a link on facebook that had created a lot of controversy (going by the conflicting comments posted). It headlined ‘Cannabis gives teenagers ‘brain damage’ and loss of self-control, study finds’.
“...the adolescent brain may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of substance use, particularly cannabis” Dr Marilyn Cyr
Dr Cyr is the lead researcher from Columbia University in the US. She showed that there was a direct link between adult substance use and problems with drugs and alcohol in adolescence.
This gave me pause for thought as in our mental health work we know that there is a link between drugs (particularly depressants), dependency and mental health concerns. We also know that the teenage brain is a ‘work in progress’ and really susceptible to influences (physical and cognitive). Teenage neural pathways are a hive of activity and development with the frontal cortex only fully developing by the age of 25. This means that teenagers are particularly vulnerable to substance use and by using it ‘recreationally’ in this developmental stage, they may in fact be paving the way for problems later on in life. They are, in effect, ‘wiring’ their brains during development towards this path.
Cannabis is the most widely used recreational drug among teenagers world-wide with vaping growing at an alarming rate. This research is a big step towards directing early interventions that will help manage addictive behaviours.
So what are ‘early interventions’ and what are their goals?
To reduce potential harms and risky behaviours
To prevent the behaviour developing into a disorder
To provide information about substance use risks
To provide information about normal and safe levels of use
To provide information on how to quit or cut down on the use
To be a bridge between prevention and actually receiving treatment
Could be informal counselling and help with decision making
So we have to ask, could we reduce the numbers of drug and alcohol dependent adults (and by default the presenting mental health issues) if we reduce the use of these substances among teenagers?
Whose responsibility is this? Parents? Schools? Government? NHS?
In our line of work we always come back to the premise that ‘knowledge and awareness is key’. The more information you have about behaviours, choices, cognitive development and life - the better equipped you’ll be to cope with situations and challenges. This is what we work through in our workshops and deliveries to organisations, employees and parents.
For those who argue that Cannabis has value - are you referring to medicinal cannabis use or recreational use? I expect it’s a continuing debate!