Skip to Main Content

Marijuana Use Impact on Brain Development

Updated 27 October 2022 Written by Deborah QuinnClinically Reviewed by Sarah Fletcher, LPC, LAC
Two teen girls staring at the camera slightly smiling

Marijuana’s Impact on Brain Development

Adolescents are particularly at risk for addiction to marijuana and they are more significantly affected by the drug on a neurological level. Many people do not realize that marijuana is addictive and even believe it is a “safe” substance. In fact, most adolescent who use marijuana do not see it as a harmful, but they account for 50% of those that enter a marijuana rehab center.

As a parent, it can be hard to know if your child has a problem with marijuana use and how to get your child treatment. It is important to find help for your teenager as marijuana dependence is harmful and causes long term, permanent damage to the brain.

What Determines Severity of Impact?

For many years, there was a general belief that marijuana’s immediate effects and its usage did not translate into any lasting changes to the individual. However, research over the past decade has shown this belief to be false, particularly for adolescents. What we now know is that the adolescent brain is highly impacted by the drug.

There is a trifecta of circumstances that can determine how severe that impact is: age that marijuana use begins, frequency that the drug is used, and length of time of persistent usage. The younger, more often and longer a child uses marijuana the more severe the consequences.

What Does Marijuana do to the Adolescent Brain?

Upon consuming marijuana, in whatever form, there are immediate short term effects:

  • Decreased attention
  • Impact to decision making capabilities
  • Decrease capacity for memory
  • Decreased learning ability

Long-term Consequences on Brain Development

These are the effects of being “high”, and while they can cause issues at school and at home, they do not explain what is occurring to the brain over time. The adolescent brain is not fully developed and won’t be until the age 25. It is growing and is therefore vulnerable.

When it is exposed to a toxin, like marijuana or any foreign substance, there is a disruption to how the brain is functioning and developing. The pathways and processing abilities are affected. When exposure occurs over and over again there is damage.

What researchers have found is that regular adolescent marijuana use negatively affects “neuropsychology” or brain functioning. There is damage in a number of key areas:

  • Intelligence
  • Memory
  • Language: speech, reading and writing
  • Executive functioning: problem solving, planning, organization, attention

These issues persist years after a person stops using. The damage is greater for those that use younger, more frequently and for longer.

Adolescents at Risk for Marijuana Dependence

The adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to substances in the frontal cortex. This area houses our ability to make decisions, plan and controls judgment. It is also where personality resides, what makes you, you. When adolescents use marijuana, these key features are affected.

The adolescent brain also more easily develops a dependence on a substance than an adult brain. The dependence tends to be more persistent than those developed later in life.

People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4-7x more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults

Marijuana Addiction Treatment Options

Finding a marijuana addiction treatment program for your teenager is essential if he or she is suffering from a marijuana addiction. Sandstone Care offers teen residential treatment. The sooner treatment begins, the better the results.

Addressing persistent marijuana use in your teenager is critical for their long term health and personal and academic success. We are available to help you and your family today.

Background Image

Online Treatment Programs

Our virtual IOP program offers the same programming that we offer in person, all online – this is ideal for those who live too far to drive to an addiction center, have transportation issues, or have health concerns that make in-person treatment challenging.

Background Image

We’re available 7 days a week to help answer any questions you may have.