Christian Treatment Center: Marijuana Harms Developing Brains

Mary Thielbahr is founder and director of Clearview Girl’s Academy, a long-term Christian residential treatment facility for troubled teen girls struggling with serious issues such as trauma, attachment disorders, substance abuse, self-harming and eating disorders.

A therapist and credentialed teacher with more than 20 years’ experience counseling young women, Thielbahr released a new report, “Marijuana Harms Teen Brains.”

The paper provides two key findings about the effects of cannabis. First, she writes, “Marijuana damages the brains of babies, children, teens and young adults up to the age of 24 years old.”

Thielbahr explains the second finding, “Marijuana affects teenage brains significantly and changes the teen’s personality within the first months of use. The damaged brain remains in need of rewiring, and cannot change without a focused, long-term transformation process.”

She points to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which describes the effects of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) one “of the more than 500 chemicals in marijuana.” NIDA says “THC is responsible for many of the drug’s psychotropic (mind-altering) effects. It’s this chemical that distorts how the mind perceives the world. In other words, it’s what makes a person high.”

NIDA reports that as THC passes into the bloodstream and enters the brain, it “attaches to cells, or neurons, with specific kinds of receptors called cannabinoid receptors,” affecting “a communication network in the brain” that is “important in normal brain development and function.” These brain systems are still maturing in teens and young adults.

According to the “Marijuana Research Report” from NIDA, “Regular use by teens may have negative and long-lasting effects on their cognitive development, putting them at a competitive disadvantage and possibly interfering with their well-being in other ways. Also, contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive, and its use during adolescence may make other forms of problem use or addiction more likely. The government agency reports that marijuana impairs driving, reduces school performance and life satisfaction, and often leads to the use of other illegal drugs.”

Thielbahr says that smoking or ingesting the drug is associated with a host of harms in teenagers, “Marijuana use produces behavior changes in teens, causing agitation, meanness, and depression, which leads to suicidal thoughts and actions. Teen girls who use ‘pot’ have socialization issues. Often, they begin to harm themselves, cutting, bruising, beating, or attempting suicide. They may even tell others about their harmful actions and promote it on social media.”

She quotes the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory, “Marijuana Use and the Developing Brain” to demonstrate that marijuana is often used by teens and young adults. “In 2017, approximately 9.2 million youth aged 12 to 25 reported marijuana use in the past month and 29% more young adults aged 18-25 started using marijuana.”

Thielbahr writes that teens using the drug may have changes in their mental and emotional state, such as anxiety, mood swings, inability to focus and overall tiredness. Parents may also notice issues with muscle coordination, bloodshot eyes and slower physical and mental reaction times.

As The Daily Citizen previously reported, the marijuana industry, political action groups, unions and fertilizer companies spent almost $20 million to pass recreational and medical marijuana ballot measures in five states in the recent election. With recreational cannabis available in 15 states, and medical marijuana in 36 states, the drug is more accessible to children and teens than ever before.

Thielbahr warns, “Today’s marijuana is not like the ‘60’s version. Scientific changes made to the plant now produce an extremely powerful substance.” With increased potency and availability, parents should be vigilant and work to stay relationally connected with their children and teens, helping them to avoid the harms of marijuana usage.

Related articles and resources:

The Allure of Legalizing Marijuana

Keeping Kids Away from Legalized Pot

Marijuana: The Big Picture

The Surgeon General Announces New Advisory on the Dangers of Marijuana for Pregnant Women and Adolescents

Focus on the Family Q&As: Substance Abuse

Counseling Consultation and Referrals:

To request a conversation with Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department, call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time), or complete our Counseling Consultation Request Form. Please be prepared to leave your contact information for a counselor to return a call to you as soon as possible. The consultation is available at no cost to you due to generous donor support and will be with one of our licensed or pastoral counseling specialists.

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