A recent piece published by two physicians discusses how cannabis can damage a developing brain. I am here to tell you cannabis does not damage the brain and to set the record straight on the risks and potential benefits for youth exposed to cannabis.
While there are numerous studies showing cognitive side effects from the use of THC, recent studies have demonstrated a serious flaw in the study designs. It is well known THC in high doses can cause acute impairment but when researchers control the data and look for impairment when cannabis is not consumed for greater than 72hrs there is no evidence the use of THC causes permanent cognitive effects. It can take days to even weeks in chronic cannabis users to deplete the body of cannabinoid byproducts. Measuring cognition while still under the influence and drawing long-term conclusions is sloppy science.
The science to date on cannabinoids and brain health is actually painting quite a different picture. In fact, some small early studies are showing that cannabis with chemotherapy shrinks brain tumors better than chemotherapy alone. Other studies are showing Cannabidiol (CBD) can eliminate seizures and protect the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation. A study in Israel recently demonstrated that autistic children using CBD had more than 80% improvement in symptoms with minimal side effects. Studies in rats have shown the use of THC may reduce brain plaques which are the cause of Alzheimer’s and that older mice had an improvement in cognitively demanding tasks. We definitely do not have all the answers when it comes to cannabis and brain health. There are indeed some studies showing harms, but it is difficult to draw accurate conclusions with poor data, NIDA sponsored research, and lack of legal regulated products studied. We also have to take the potential harms of cannabis in context of pervasive use of alcohol, tobacco, opioids and benzodiazepines that are causing far greater harm to society. Cannabis fortunately does not kill people, unlike many other legal substances being used in record numbers leading to record numbers of recorded deaths in North America.
The argument that cannabis is all bad for the brain is false, fear mongering is not helpful in moving forward on educating cannabis consumers on the accurate risk-benefit profile. Setting a legal age of 25 will not magically stop young people from using cannabis if they want to. It will just criminalize them and prevent them from progressing as meaningful contributors to society. It will also force them into black market products that are unregulated, grown perhaps with toxic pesticides and sold by people potentially dealing much more harmful or addictive substances. If you want to protect young people from the harms of drug use, then supporting cannabis legalization as a harm reduction strategy must be accepted. People being able to switch from alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, or cocaine to cannabis will find themselves in a healthier place. There’s data as well to show that patients are indeed doing exactly this – substituting harmful substances with cannabis.
So as a physician, parent and expert who has prescribed cannabis to over 200 children with severe medical issues here is my advice. If you don’t have a reason to use cannabis avoid it. If you do, use regulated products, higher in CBD, in low quantities and seek accurate medical advice. Your body makes cannabis so biohacking it through meditation, yoga, singing or exercise is the single best way to get a cannabis benefit naturally while developing resilience.