How cannabis affects a developing brain

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      (This article is sponsored by )

      By Amra Dizdarevic, Nurse Practitioner

      Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

      There’s a common misconception that because cannabis is natural—and now legal—it’s also somehow safe. Recent studies show that there’s a growing number of people who aren’t aware of the risks and long-term consequences of using cannabis.

      Unfortunately, one of the groups most susceptible to lasting damage from cannabis use is also the demographic that uses it the most—adolescents.

      With legalization in Canada, it’s never been more important to educate adolescents that natural and legal do not mean healthy or safe.

      Cannabis use is on the rise

      Canadian adolescents have the highest rate of cannabis use in the developed world. For example, 28 percent of Canadian children aged 11 to 15 admitted to using cannabis at least once in the past year, compared to just 17 percent in the weed-friendly Netherlands.

      Studies show that when perception of cannabis's risk drops, use of the drug rises quickly. In Canada, the perceived dangers of cannabis have been declining over the last decade. In 2014, less than 40 percent of high school seniors said they believed regular cannabis use was risky, the lowest it’s been since the 1970s.

      Perhaps unsurprisingly, cannabis use among Canadian adolescents has also been on the rise over the past few decades. Based on the Canadian Community Health Survey, use by Canadians aged 15 years and older almost doubled between 1985 and 2015. There’s also a sizable portion of the nation’s youth who use cannabis on a frequent basis. According to a recent study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 10 percent of grade 12 students smoke cannabis every day.

      Effects of cannabis on the adolescent brain

      The brain continues to develop until the age of 25 or 26. During this period of neurodevelopment, the brain is thought to be particularly sensitive to damage from drug exposure, making adolescents uniquely susceptible to lasting damage from cannabis use.

      The last region of the brain to fully develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is critical to planning and judgment. Regular cannabis use during the developmental period has been shown to impair this section of the brain and its functions, such as attention, memory, motor coordination, learning, and decision-making.

      Numerous studies have associated regular use with a bleak set of life outcomes. These include poor academic performance, increased welfare dependence, greater unemployment, addiction, lower life satisfaction, and achievement.

      What’s the solution?

      If we want to see a decline in adolescent cannabis use, schools, parents, and health-care providers all have a responsibility to communicate the risks associated with the plant.

      Speaking to your children early and often about the hazards of cannabis is key to creating awareness. Ask about their friends and whether they are using cannabis, and then explore your child’s beliefs about it and whether they would use it if offered.

      Need help broaching the subject? The physicians and nurse practitioners at Copeman Healthcare can offer guidance on this important topic. Copeman Healthcare’s Copeman Kids (CK) for newborns to age 17 and the Young Adults Prevention Program (YAPP) for ages 18 to 24 are designed to create a path to lasting wellness.

      To learn how can help your child meet their development milestones call Ashley Hamilton at 604-670-2937 or email