Early Marijuana Use Tied to Long-Term Brain Problems

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Early Marijuana Use Tied to Long-Term Brain Problems

New research shows that adults who smoked marijuana before age 15 have significant problems with attention span, impulse control, and "executive function" - the ability to plan and carry out tasks.

For the research, scientists at the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil used a stardard "card sorting" task to evaluate the cognitive ability of 104 long-term cannabis users, including 49 who had started using before age 15. On average, the early tokers had smoked pot for 10.9 years.

The study found that early pot smokers made more mistakes than those who waited to use weed, as well as the "controls" who didn't smoke marijuana.

How about people who took up using marijuana later in life? The same research showed they were much less likely to have such difficulties.

"We found that early-onset, but not late-onset, chronic cannabis users had deficits in their cognitive functioning," study author Dr. Maria Alice Fontes said. "Adolescence is a period in which the brain appears to be particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of cannabis. The brain before the age of 15 is still developing and maturing, so exposure to cannabis during this period may be more harmful."

If early pot smoking really is bad for the brain, lots of Americans may be at risk for long-term cognitive difficulties. A 2009 study found that 7 percent of 8th graders and 16 percent of 10th graders had used marijuana in the past month, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse website.

The study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Source: CBS News