How does smoking marijuana affect the adolescent brain?

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     Three types of marijuana buds are shown at Med Grow Cannabis College in Southfield, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, file)

    Three types of marijuana buds are shown at Med Grow Cannabis College in Southfield, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, file)

    According to a 2013 National Institutes of Health survey, campaigns in several states to legalize marijuana have led many teens to believe that smoking it is not that risky.

    “Not true,” said Kathy Meyers, a senior research scientist at Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia, which examines how to assess and treat substance use among young adults.

    In fact, new studies show that young adults who are heavy pot users subject themselves to abnormal changes in their brain structures, especially with regard to working memory. “It affects memory processing, your ability to control your emotions,” said Meyers. “And for adolescents, these are issues that they struggle with anyway because of their developmental period.”

    While medical marijuana has been shown to have benefits for some illnesses, Meyers said that doesn’t mean it’s never harmful. “What I say to people all the time is: opiates. That is a medicine used for chronic pain, but we all know that it’s harmful.”

    Meyers said the national conversation needs to change to not only reflect marijuana’s medicinal benefits, but also the harmful effects that can come from abusing the drug.

    To hear Kathy Meyers discuss perceptions and effects of marijuana with WHYY’s Jennifer Lynn, click the audio link above.

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