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The Harms of Marijuana & THC on the Young Brain

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded October in of 2019 . For the original video go to

Bob: Once again, we are joined by someone, Brad, do you want to introduce him?

Brad: Chris the pharmacist. I’ve known Chris for about 25 or 30 years now. He is the man we go to to get some real good scientific information about this topic we’re going to go over.

Bob: We want some authority, and this is the guy. I would say, semi-genius? Or full genius.

Brad: Yeah, I would say he’s right up there.

Chris: Let’s lower the bar.

Bob: Alright, we’re going to talk about the harms of marijuana/THC on the young brain. This is a very important topic obviously as things become legalized and we want to make sure we explore it fully.

Brad: Right. And all three of us have adult children. Chris still has a high schooler.

Chris: I still have a teenager at home.

Brad: So, we can relate to this at a personal level as well. I guess growing up when I was younger, I didn't use or at least I didn’t inhale, older joke. But anyway, does it really hurt a teenager if they smoke some marijuana? It’s been around back in the 60’s, it seems like it really got popular and exposed to the public and also in the media especially. Also, at the same time, there’s the question about can you justify it as it's becoming medically legitimate. They’re saying it’s legal medically in some states now. It’s a good pain killer. There’s some research being done with cancer and that kind of thing, but we need to get this all cleared up.

Chris: Well, at the end of the day, I mean, people smoke marijuana to get high. I mean, it’s recreational use. I think that’s probably the area that we’ll focus on because that’s where the danger really lies. And kids are going to be kids. I think it’s something that, as parents, we give them the best possible information we can. As far as marijuana, THC, which is the active component which gives you that high effect, is actually probably something that is very, very dangerous to a developing brain. There are actually some pretty decent studies that show pretty eloquently why it’s a bad thing. The brain doesn’t stop developing until about 25 years old. So, I guess, even alcohol use, which is also dangerous for a lot of reasons, but we won’t side bar that too much. But probably shouldn’t even drink until you’re 25. When we take something like marijuana, THC, it really does affect the teenager’s brain. There’s a lot that happens between 12 and 17 and continues to happen until about 25. There’s that magic spot right in there where there’s just lots happening in the brain. When you smoke marijuana, what happens is, you get these chemicals, it makes you feel funny and high and all these silly kinds of things, but it actually really stunts brain development. Those risks that happen are just really traumatic. The high rates for depression and anxiety are huge, off the Richter scale. We’re talking, on the normal population, it’s between anywhere from, depending on the study, 15 maybe 20% of people will suffer from it without adding any risks. I mean it’s not; you’re walking by without a net. You add marijuana into the frame in a young developing brain and it increases that risk fivefold. So, it’s a much higher risk. Not just little bits of depression and anxiety, but lots where actually it’s very clinically significant. It’s requiring prescriptions, it’s requiring watching out for things as dangerous as suicide. It’s something that we have to be very careful with.

Bob: A friend of my son’s, smokes marijuana and it just happens to be that he does have huge issues with anxiety and depression now. I mean, I know that’s a one case of one. It’s just interesting to observe up front.

Brad: But you’re talking about studies that reveal this clearly.

Chris: Yeah, there’s study after study that shows it very clearly. Actually, the things that are really the most damaging, so the younger and the frequency of use dictate the amount of damage later down the road. So, that’s the take home. So, if you have a 12, 13, 14, 15 year old kid that’s using this and using it habitually, it’s something that we have to be super careful with. Their risk for anxiety and depression, what they show, is permanent, and you’re going to have problems. Just to kind of jump it around; there’s a study in Norway that actually had a twin study, which was kind of interesting. It was a small study, so I don’t know that you could necessarily hang your hat on it, but it’s certainly something that brought it up. There’s two separate kids, one that did and one that didn’t. They were twins. So, you’ve got good matches. That’s what’s so interesting about his study. It showed that the one that didn’t, seemed to be well adjusted and fine but there was a much higher incidence of suicidal ideation in the twin that used. It wasn’t really clear on how much marijuana was consumed, at what ages, but they showed that suicidal ideation and depression and anxiety were very very high in the ones that did compared to the twin. So, even though the study was very small, I think at least it gives a window on what we have to be prepared for. It’s something as a parent, none of us want our children to be exposed to those types of things. Life is hard enough as it is. I don’t think we need to do anything to make it more challenging.

Bob: What about that thing you often see in marijuana use in movies that’s the lack of ambition. Is there anything to that?

Chris: Oh, there’s a lot to that. That goes with a lot of things that occur with the smoking of marijuana when you’re talking about the developing brain you have the frontal cortex where all the thinking goes on, but you have other areas, your hippocampus, where all your memories are processed, so there’s lots of really complex things happening in that brain. That chemical, for whatever reason, seems to slow down your ability to, you’re apathetic, you’re impulsive, so you’re more likely to just say, hey that sounds like a good idea. So, we’re going to do that. We have problems with memory and recall. Spatial orientation. That’s just directions to the local quick mart. It’s like, alright, you’re going to take two stop lights, you’re going to take a right and then a left. You know, we all got it. Two stop lights, a right and a left. Well, all of a sudden, they’ve gone left and then two stop lights. So, I mean it’s something that does affect how the brain works, and it’s interesting. Some of the studies actually show after periods of absence or not using the product, what happens is, it recovers a little bit, but not great, and it seems like those effects are probably permanent.

Bob: Especially used at a young age.

Chris: Yes. I mean, you have kids that are in school, they’re learning. They talk about things like verbal fluency, so when you’re learning to use your vocabulary and different words, you kind of get stuck on one word. It’s easy to make fun of because we see it in the movies. We see the comical aspects of it. There’s a lot of truth to it and there’s a lot of very real issues that occur. I think what these kids do not realize, and I think we can call it, they’re children, our children. They don’t realize the damage that they are doing. They’re stunting their development; they’re stunting their intelligence. They’re opening up their lives to possible, really sadness, misery and anxiety. Just for the short-term gains because maybe societal pressures, peer pressure. Hey, I’m doing it, so you have to do it. See, now you’re cool, now you’re not. There’s a lot of things. It’s very hard to be a teenager. I think in this day and age, it’s probably harder than it was when we were kids. There’s so many more options and choices that are available to them.

Bob: Now that it’s being legalized in a lot of areas, I mean is society saying, yeah, it’s okay now.

Chris: It sends mixed messages. I think, again, everybody is free to choose, but I think at least until that brain is 25, and even after 25, there’s still studies that show it’s not a good thing either. But there’s also aspects of marijuana use that can be good as far as pain relief and cancer relief, seizure control. I mean, it’s a slippery slope and we have to very careful with what we’re doing. But in the case of our kids.

Bob: Now what you’re talking about though, is basically, again, choosing your poison to some extent. It’s going to be a lot better to use marijuana than maybe some of the opioids.

Chris: Oh, yeah, yeah. They are lesser evils. We’re not going to tell you to go out and find some meth or find some heroin. It’s all very bad. Let’s face it, they’re all bad. At some point or another, people use it recreationally, but you know, I’ve been guilty of having a beer at a local tavern. It’s certainly something that my friends can attest to how many beers I’ve had. So, it’s certainly something to be aware of.

Bob: That’s the argument quite often that they make. Well, they legalized alcohol. The thing is, that alcohol is bad. So is marijuana. So is if we legalize another drug. They’re all bad. We’re just adding to the mix there basically.

Brad: We were talking earlier; Chris and you had mentioned there was a study on was it your IQ or something about your cognition? Without the use of marijuana and with it, or the THC.

Chris: Yeah, so there are some good studies that actually show that your IQ could drop as much as 8 points.

Bob: I don’t have 8 points to lose. I don’t know about you.

Chris: Exactly. Now, if there were a drug that would give me 8-10 points of intelligence, I’m all about it. But I mean, when you’re going backwards, and you’re old and it’s one of those things where, I don’t want to lose those 8 points. When you’re in a developing mind, it’s even more serious because the damage that you do then, is probably more permanent. So, we are going to have problems down the road. It’s like, we want these kids to emerge and flourish. The last thing we want them doing is going backwards. We just can’t do that.

Brad: Especially when it sounds like it’s a permanent thing. The damage is done. It’s not going to correct itself like the lungs. If you’re smoking and you quit smoking, your lungs do regenerate. Not the case here.

Chris: I mean, there is an extent with abstinence where it does get better, but it never seems to get where that baseline is. You’ll never really get that what you once had. It’s kind of one of those things that these kids for the most part come out and they’re perfect, for the most part, unless there’s other mitigating factors, and every day you live is a little bit closer day to death. So, why would we do anything that’s going to make that path from A to B more difficult? I think, unfortunately, with a developing brain, it can.

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

Bob: Now, you’re mentioning too, that some of the doses now of marijuana are much more potent now than what people may remember when they tried it as a kid.

Chris: Oh yes. I think what happened in the 60s and 70s and 80s, we’ve had some very smart botanists out there that really know how to manipulate plant genes. They can structure the types of highs that they can manufacture. It’s interesting because I think there is some medical aspects that it can be certainly researched and hopefully moved forward with some of these scientists. At the same time, I think we have to be careful again, with the age of things and the exposure. We just have to be so careful because of the damage that we can do to the brain. It’s just something that we have to care to care.

Brad: You know, we were talking just a little bit ago about that they’re changing genetically the plant. I can relate to that because my nephew just got his PhD in agronomy and he’s been literally, he tells me about it in the stories that he’s growing grass, actually, grass seed. They want to make a grass seed better, like in your lawn. It’s amazing what they’ve done with what they can do. There’s a Bill Murray reference in there. Someone with his knowledge had decided, well, if I can do this with grass seed, I’ll do it with marijuana plants. I can just imagine that they can really change it. In other words, one joint from the 60s versus one joint today, modified, the level of THC could be doubled or tripled?

Chris: I don’t know if we have a straight percentage. I think what you can say is that the level of THC produces a more potent high. I think you can take that to the bank. From that standpoint, they just understand, like I said, how to manipulate the plant genes. In the case of your nephew, it’s just another plant that we can manipulate genes. You see it all over the place. It’s the genetically modified organisms. It’s something that they’re going to continue to do it and maybe even make a better plant. I mean, heaven knows what’s going to happen out there in the future, but I think there’s so much research that we need to do for the safety of everybody that’s involved. What are the dangers will be, obviously? There’s respiratory illness, there’s going to be cardiac issues. Obviously, the mind is what I typically focus on. It’s certainly something we have to be very careful with. There’s emerging evidence. There’s this cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome and it’s something that ER doctors have kind of reported. It’s an interesting article.

Bob: And hyperemesis is what?

Chris: Throwing up a lot.

Brad: Profusely.

Chris: To the point where they actually dehydrate, and all these other really bad things happen in the body to the point where it can actually cause death. I think that’s the thing we have to take away from.

Bob: And not recognizing it in the ER for being caused by marijuana.

Chris: It’s being recognized now because it’s becoming more of a hot topic. It’s been misdiagnosed. The problem is that there’s a very casual thought that marijuana’s not that big of a deal. I think it is a big deal, and it should be treated that way. Alcohol, I think is actually worse than marijuana. If you were going to pick the two poisons. If you look at the addictive scale, alcohol comes in well ahead of marijuana. But it’s certainly something that has its own emerging set of problems. I think over the next 20 years, we’re going to see more and more of those. Going back to that hyperemesis, the throwing up, there was an example of a young lady that, she was 27 years old and she knew she had this. She figured, well one more night’s not going to kill me. So, she went out on, I guess for lack of anything else to say, a marijuana bender. She partook of various different foods and types of smoking.

Brad: And this was at a restaurant?

Chris: Yeah, just a restaurant. It’s something that’s kind of a fad thing out west. I mean, I think you’ll see a lot in California for sure. They have clever chefs that try and add this to make things at least get people through the door. So, she went through but the takeaway is that she ingested tons and tons of marijuana that night, and it landed her in the ER. It ultimately put her in the hospital for days. The study, I believe said three days. She nearly died. There’s a really tragic story, same article, of a 17-year-old boy that had the same thing. He was vomiting so profusely and dehydrating and everything else that went with it, it shut down all his organs and he passed away at 17 years old. What these physicians are noticing is that they didn’t realize that it was probably from marijuana use and so it was being treated as stomach ailments or maybe a virus. Now your astute physicians, and they’re all sharp. I mean, I think for the most part, so now they’re becoming more and more aware of this particular condition. I think as it becomes more decriminalized and more people use more of it, it’s simply a small example of the dangers yet to come. I think that’s the take home. As parents, as friends, you just want to make sure that your friends and loved ones are being taken care of. We don’t want anybody to go down that route.

Bob: You may have just saved someone, Chris, because we’ve all seen it more then once on our channel where we’ve warned people of something and they’ve emailed us later and said that because of you, we figured this out. This is why we’re vomiting.

Chris: Maybe. It’s just a dramatic example for sure. And I chose that simply because it is a dramatic example. But I mean, it is something, a real possibility. We’re seeing many many more people affected by it. Another friend of mine is a physician and he’s like, just you wait. You’re going to see an eruption of problems associated with marijuana. Respiratory, cardiac, obviously the mind, which we kind of gravitated to through this program. It’s something that I think we have to take with a grain of salt with our youth, in particular, but even as choices as adults, we have to be careful with it.

Bob: I think if some of the states wait long enough, they’ll watch some of these other states that have legalized it and start to see the issues cropping up there unfold.

Chris: It’s hard to deny the money unfortunately. That’s where the problem is. Schools and bridges, I mean it’s crazy.

Brad: Another conundrum that our society is going to have to face. We’ll get through it with people like Chris. Our channel can educate some people and help it out.

Bob: Thanks again to Chris for coming. Well done, well done.

Brad: Excellent job, Chris.

Chris: Thanks guys.

Bob: Thanks for watching.

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