Recreational Pot Smokers Change Their Brains

Recreational Pot Smokers Change Their Brains, Too

Dear Jeff and Debra:


We’ve just found out that our daughter and son, both away at college, are smoking pot. We learned this through their younger sister, who decided we should know. We talked to both of our children to express our disapproval and inform them that they needed to stop using this drug immediately. My husband and I were shocked at their responses. They didn’t care what we had to say, but rather vehemently defended marijuana as a harmless drug that is being legalized and also used as a beneficial medication. They are both certain that smoking this drug a couple times a week is perfectly safe and say they plan to continue smoking it recreationally. My husband blew up at their disrespectful attitude and the conversation devolved into a screaming match.


Neither my husband nor I drink. It is a decision we made when our children were little. Alcoholism runs in both of our families, and we decided not to tempt fate. We have raised our kids to understand that addiction is a genetic disease and that they could have inherited it. We consider ourselves informed, communicative parents who prepared our children to make smart decisions around drinking and drugs. But these two kids steamrolled us with arguments on why this drug is harmless. They are obviously getting a lot of pro-marijuana information, which is usurping our parental guidance and authority. We are at our wit’s end.

-Mom and Dad


Dear Mom and Dad:


A widespread belief that recreational marijuana use – smoking it a couple times a week – is perfectly safe is being challenged by a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers from Harvard and Northwestern studied the brains of recreational pot smokers, ages 18 to 25, and compared them with non-marijuana smokers in the same age group.


Female pot smoker

Recreational Pot Smokers Change Their Brains, Too

In the areas of the brain that control emotions and motivation, recreational pot smokers showed significant abnormalities. “This is a part of the brain that you absolutely never ever want to touch,” said Hans Breiter, one of the researchers. These areas of the brain largely determine what we find pleasurable in life and how we gauge benefit and loss. Even those who only smoke once a week showed noticeable abnormalities. Smoking more often causes an increase in significant variations.


Breiter goes on to say, “People think a little marijuana shouldn’t cause a problem if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not so.”


We don’t yet know exactly in what form these alterations to the brain change a person’s quality of life, but the emotional brain is a determining factor in our capacity to engage in healthy relationships, find a sense of happiness in life and have the ability to make good decisions. Memory is also exceedingly important in our capacity to make decisions.


Since the brain is in a rapid development phase during the teen years throughout the mid-twenties, introducing any drugs can alter this growth process and, according to neuroscientists, possibly cause permanent changes. When a brain’s ability to access emotions, process rewards, and make decisions is altered by marijuana, it should be taken seriously, according to researchers.


Additionally, by altering one’s mood with substances whenever socializing, social maturity is slowed or blocked. When we depend on a drug to do the work for us, we don’t develop socially in the same manner as we do when we’re sober.


We suggest you present this information to your children and pair it with a behavioral expectation that they stop using marijuana. If understanding how marijuana compromises their brains does not lead to an immediate end to their relationship with the drug, you have a bigger problem than recreational use. Kids value their brains. If they are willing to sacrifice their brain’s ability to function at its best possible level for the benefit of a high, seek professional help from a therapist who specializes in young adults and substance abuse. As parents, have a detailed conversation with the therapist before including your children to assess whether or not the therapist shares your values and expectations.


Questions? Comments? Contact us.


This article originally appeared in the Grosse Pointe News


Modeling Adulthood

Girl-Imitating-AdultKids notice everything. As they move into their teen years they notice more of everything and with a more discerning eye. They’re constantly adapting themselves to the world around them and evaluating the actions of others. Young people want to grow up fast, so they pay special attention to adults.


If kids see that adult gatherings always include alcohol, it sends a message that will be received loud and clear. The message is: if I’m an adult interacting with other adults in a social setting, I should be drinking. Children are the only ones who aren’t allowed to drink. If I’m going to be one of the grown-ups, I need to drink.


When extended family and friends come over for a holiday celebration, an adult birthday or a special occasion, is alcohol always part of the program? If so, the point about adulthood equaling alcohol is being reinforced.


How about sending a richer and more nuanced message. Yes, adults may drink alcohol, but alcohol isn’t a requirement for adults to get together. Take some time to plan adult family activities that don’t include alcohol, where everyone is having fun together without drinking. This possibly strange behavior will be noted and if alcohol normally plays a big role in your family, the message will be puzzled over by your kids. That’s a good thing.


Be sure your kids see the different ways you have to relax and take time for yourself. Work out, read a book, work on a project. You won’t have the luxury of isolation because you live in a house with kids, but you can demonstrate the various ways that adults relax, without using substances.


If a problem does arise with substance abuse in your household, get some help. When you think about it, it’s the only sensible thing to do. If you had transmission problems with your car, you wouldn’t attempt to become a transmission specialist overnight. Why would you? You’d get professional help with the problem.


The brain of a young female will continue to develop until the age of 21 to 23. For males, brain development continues until the age of 22 to 24. The regular use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs can impact the developmental process in a negative way. It may not be realistic to expect that your children will abstain from all substances until they complete their developmental process, but they should be made aware of the dangers. It also gives a reasonable and scientific basis for firm boundaries and expectations in the household.


Your kids will be exposed to alcohol and other drugs early in their teen years, if not earlier. Make sure you learn how to communicate with them before someone else does. And as always, actions speak louder than words.


– Jeff Jay