With the legalization of cannabis and the growing online sales, many worry that despite age limits, cannabis might be more easily accessible to individuals under the legal age. Some may argue that cannabis can be beneficial in different medical and therapeutic ways, but there can be more harm than help when it comes to the developing brain. What is the right age to start using cannabis that won’t cause lasting damage?
Hai Nguyen, a health economist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, wanted to find the ideal age for smoking cannabis. With a research team, they took data from 20,000 people between 18 and 65. The study also factors general health, mental health, and educational attainment, and the results settle on the age of 19. According to the researchers, smoking weed before 19 is linked to significantly high risks, such as mental health and memory issues, later on.
The fact is, the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. The effects of the drug on the young, developing brain far outweigh the potential benefits. The legal age to consume is 21 in the US. In Canada, it ranges from 18-21. That means individuals as young as 18 can consume at will. Not to say the age should be changed — because we don’t want to drive youth into the arms of the black market, but knowing the potential risks should be considered.
Cannabis and the Developing Brain
We continue to hear different opinions about cannabis as far as its benefits. However, there are potential dangers to take into consideration as well. Some argue early cannabis use can lead to addiction, and heavy use can cause other health problems. But then we are also told that cannabis can aid in anxiety and pain, along with therapeutic benefits to multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
In 2018, a study found that when teenagers increased their cannabis use over a year, their memory skills declined. Meanwhile, a 2019 study suggested that cannabis may interfere with the natural thinning of grey matter in teen brains, which may lead to developing cognitive issues. After all, the brain doesn’t stop developing until 25, and 18 to 21 is still considered crucial for brain development. Several studies found consistent evidence of both structural brain abnormalities and altered neural activity in teens and young adults.
Know the Risks
It is still not clear whether cannabis alone is the main culprit for some of the negative effects on young adolescents. While most people who use cannabis do not progress to problematic use, those who use cannabis frequently (daily or near-daily) over a long period may be putting themselves at risk of dependence.
A person may be dependent if they feel like they need to use cannabis just to feel normal and function during the day. People who stop using cannabis after regular use can experience mild feelings of withdrawal. Common symptoms of cannabis withdrawal are restlessness, nervousness, irritability, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping.
Even if you have only limited experience with drugs, you likely know more than you think about the key issues. Most people understand intuitively that all drugs can be both good and bad. Even medication recommended by a doctor can cause harm, especially if not taken correctly. When it comes to cannabis, almost everyone knows people who have had fun or benefitted in some other way from using cannabis or other drugs. Likewise, most people know of someone who has had bad experiences. The key thing to be aware of is the younger the age, the higher the risks.