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Reefer Madness, that infamous cult film of the 1930s that uses over-the-top effects to warn parents of the harmful effects of marijuana, may have been on the right track after all. Mounting evidence points to some deeply concerning recent revelations about marijuana causing psychosis in teens. While that may sound a bit melodramatic, the publication of several recent studies provides credence to this claim.
But marijuana is supposed to be the “safe” recreational drug, right? With a wave of states recently legalizing pot, and abundant claims about cannabis treating a growing list of medical maladies, it seems counterintuitive to now consider marijuana as a potential danger to teens.
This latest information about the possibility of pot causing psychosis in teens comes to light as teenagers’ use of marijuana is rapidly escalating. Because of the legalization of cannabis, dispensaries and cannabis delivery services offer all manner of edibles, THC vape products, inhalants, and boutique cannabis strains boasting very high THC concentrations, which can all find their way into a teen’s hands.
In fact, according to the 2019 Monitoring the Future survey, teen marijuana use had risen across the spectrum. The report states that 11.8% of 8th graders had used pot in the last year with 6.6% admitting to using it in the prior month; of 10th graders 28.8% had used cannabis in the last year with 18.4% in the prior month; and among 12th graders 35.7% reported marijuana use in the last year, 22.3% in the last month, and 6.4% admitted to daily marijuana use. In addition, 4% of the 12th graders reported vaping THC daily.
Even in the 80+ years since the release of Reefer Madness, the dangers of exposure to THC are still not understood. As the potency of the marijuana continues to increase, so do the unknown risks of cannabis products to a teen. Some risks are known, such as:
- Lung damage caused by smoking marijuana
- Poisonings from ingesting potent edibles
- Regular marijuana use can stunt a young person’s future by effectively destroying their sense of ambition toward achieving future goals.
- Reduced academic performance due to cognitive problems, poor memory, difficulty paying attention
- Impaired social functioning
- Contributes to mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis
- Reduced brain size
- Lower quality brain connections
Because the teen brain is still developing its executive functions, exposure to THC can derail the developmental process and possibly increase psychotic thoughts. However, studies focusing on cannabis and the brain are in their early stages with much yet to be learned.
After alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used recreational drug in the U.S. The chemical in marijuana that causes the psychotropic effects is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The THC is derived from the resin that is produced by the buds and leaves of a female cannabis plan. THC effects may include:
- Heightened sensory perception
- Increased appetite
- Altered perception of time
- Loss of the sense of personal identity
In states, such as Colorado, where cannabis is legal there has been a spike in emergency room visits associated with marijuana use. Many who attempt to try the modern marijuana are not prepared for the intense effects of the THC levels and can experience such effects as panic, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, and extreme confusion. Shortly after Illinois legalized marijuana there was a sudden rise in emergency room visits due to cannabis.
There is ongoing debate about the potential medical benefits of marijuana, as the subject is controversial. However, the FDA has approved a small number of THC-derived products for very limited use in the medical field. Ongoing trials continue to test marijuana for efficacy in treating multiple sclerosis, which has already been approved in Europe and Canada.
Is Marijuana Addicting?
Any substance that impairs functioning and interacts with neurotransmitter can lead to addiction. This occurs when the individual develops physical or psychological traits consistent with a compulsion to obtain and use the substance. When the individual is no longer able to resist using the drug, and experiences withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop, they have likely developed a marijuana use disorder or addiction.
Those individuals who begin using marijuana on a regular basis during their teens are 4-7 times more likely to eventually develop a marijuana use disorder than adults who use the drug. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 17% of teens that begin using marijuana in their teens will become dependent on it later.
Marijuana is substantially more potent than it was in the 1970s. Even in the 1990s, the THC content was about 3.8%. In 2014, THC was up to 12.3%, and in certain marijuana extracts the THC content can surpass 50%. Scientists have not yet established long-term health risks for these high-potency products. The teen brain is particularly vulnerable to the possible consequences of the high concentrations of THC.
The daily habit of using marijuana may lead the person to begin to believe that they cannot get through their day or sleep at night without it. This is a sign of addiction. The person will continue to use marijuana daily even when the daily use is causing negative consequences in their life.
When marijuana is used regularly they may develop a dependence on the drug. When this is the case, the individual will experience various withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop the drug. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms include:
- Hypersomnia or insomnia
- Decreased appetite
- Marijuana cravings
Teens addicted to marijuana use may find themselves slaves to the drug, even needing it continuously throughout the day just to manage stress and anxiety. Their world becomes centered around marijuana, finding it increasingly difficult to function without it.
Does Marijuana Cause Psychosis in Teens?
There is mounting clinical evidence that marijuana use during the teen years is associated with increased risk for psychosis, such as schizophrenia. Recent studies indicate that teens that use marijuana daily increase the possibility that they may develop psychosis, or even schizophrenia.
Some recent studies include:
- Study in Germany followed nearly 2,000 participants aged 14-24 over a ten-year period. Demonstrated a link between marijuana use and later developing psychotic symptoms, with those exposed to the drug have twice the rate of psychosis.
- Archives of General Psychiatry published a meta-study that concluded that early use of marijuana plays a causal role in the development of psychosis in some patients.
Currently, it is posited that the risk for marijuana using teens developing psychosis or schizophrenia is highest among teens with a family member who has this mental health disorder. This means that if the teen that is regularly using marijuana has a family member who has a history of a psychotic disorder, the risk for the teen to develop psychosis in adulthood is seven times the risk of those individuals who do not have the genetic component.
Warning signs of psychosis include:
- Declining academic performance
- Sleep disturbances, nightmares
- Isolating behaviors
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty communicating thoughts
- Mood swings
- Extreme fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Strong inappropriate emotions or absence of emotions
- Becoming suspicious
- Expressing magical thinking
- Odd speech patterns
- Claiming to hear or see things that are not there (hallucinations)
- Delusional thoughts
If a teen exhibits several of the signs of psychosis they will need acute stabilization, which helps subdue the symptoms through medication and provides added psychiatric support and monitoring.
Teen Treatment for Marijuana Abuse and Addiction
Marijuana abuse can particularly develop into a psychological addiction. This kind of emotional or cognitive addiction occurs after an extended period of use of marijuana to help manage issues such as sleep disorder or social anxiety. Symptoms of psychological dependence on marijuana begin to emerge when the individual truly believes they will not be able to fall asleep without the drug, or can’t possibly function at a work-related function unless under its influence.
In past years, many people didn’t believe that marijuana dependence was even a real substance use disorder, therefore people didn’t approach formal addiction treatment programs for deal with marijuana abuse or addiction. However, the increased concentrations of THC have impacted potency of the drug to the point where it is causing psychosis in teens, in addition to a list of other negative consequences.
The teen may first need to undergo a detox and withdrawal phase to clear the body of the remnants of THC. Following detox, marijuana addiction treatment features individual therapy sessions with a licensed psychotherapist who will use types of therapies to induce positive behavioral changes. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivation enhancement therapy (MET), and contingency management (CM).
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most often used psychotherapy for assisting teens in overcoming thought and action response patterns that fueled the marijuana addiction. The therapist helps the teen identify the disordered thought patterns that led to need for using marijuana, and then helps them replace those with new thought-behavior patterns that become useful coping tools when prompted to use marijuana.
Group therapy is another core treatment element used in marijuana addiction treatment. A therapist guides the group of teens by introducing topics that encourage conversation and sharing among the group. These peer-based groups are effective in promoting social support and accountability. Other group activities might involve recreational therapies and holistic therapies.
As parents and teachers become better versed in the dangerous potency of today’s marijuana—which may even result in later psychosis—they can help influence teens to not use this dangerous “soft” drug.
BNI Treatment Centers Provides Medical Detox for Marijuana
BNI Treatment Centers is a high quality doctor-owned teen mental health residential facility in Los Angeles, California. The program is designed for adolescents in need of more intensive mental health treatment. BNI Treatment Centers provides psychiatric stabilization services for teens experiencing psychosis due to marijuana use, as well as ongoing treatment for mental health disorders. BNI also provides medical detox services to help ease the teen through the associated withdrawal symptoms. For more information please contact BNI Treatment Centers today at (888) 522-1504.