Regular cannabis use is harmful whether people start in adolescence or later on, new research concludes.
Using cannabis is linked to mental health problems like depression and anxiety, as well as substance misuse problems.
Dr Gary Chan, the study’s first author, said:
“Compared to non-users, regular cannabis users were more likely to engage in high-risk alcohol consumption, smoke tobacco, use other illicit drugs and not be in a relationship at age 35.
These outcomes were more common among those who started using cannabis regularly in adolescence.
They were also at higher risk of depression and less likely to have a paid job.
Overall, regular use of cannabis—more than weekly and especially daily use—was found to have harmful consequences, regardless of the age people began using it.”
The results come from a study of 1,792 Australian high school students who were followed for two decades.
Many of the same problems linked to cannabis were found in young adults as well as in adolescents, the study revealed.
Dr Chan said:
“Two-thirds of people who use cannabis regularly started use in their early 20s.
Because adult-onset is a lot more common than adolescent on-set, most of the harms associated with cannabis are in fact in the group who begin later on.
Those who began regular use as a young adult accounted for the highest proportion of subsequent illicit drug use and tobacco use in the population, and a much higher proportion of high-risk drinking.”
How cannabis use affects the brain
Research on the effects of cannabis on the brain have produced a whole raft of findings — some positive, some negative.
Here are a few:
- Using cannabis frequently is linked to a decline in intelligence.
- However, the short-term intellectual effects of heavy pot use are minimal, a review of 69 studies including 2,100 pot users found. Even the minimal effects quickly disappeared.
- Cannabis is not a ‘safe drug’, as many imagine. Data from more than 120 studies found that marijuana may be harmful for a particular type of vulnerable adolescent, possibly leading to behavioural problems and addiction.
- Using cannabis just once is enough to change critical areas of the brain, one recent study finds.
- Cannabis causes short-term paranoia in some people.
- Regular marijuana users have increased connectivity in their brains, despite having some gray matter loss in areas related to addiction.
- However, long-term alcohol use is more damaging to the brain than long-term cannabis use.
The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review (Chan et al., 2021).