Reading in the literature over the past few years, I’ve become more and more convinced (as, apparently, have a bunch of folks far more knowledgeable than I) that drug use among preteens and teens — including alcohol — is turning into a major mental health problem.
It has always been a problem, of course, but I think that when my generation — the first to consider drug use a more-or-less acceptable practice — started raising kids, we also raised the ante quite a bit. This is borne out by research into brain development. We now know that the connections in the brain that facilitate its most complex functions don’t finish forming until the early 20’s, and that their formation can be retarded or prevented by the use of alcohol and other drugs. Given that kids are naturally wired for exploring and risk-taking during this period, and that drugs by their very nature reduce anyone’s judgement, we have a situation that is interesting, at the very least.
Here’s some newly-released data regarding cannabis, although much of the information can be extrapolated theoretically to include other drugs. I encourage you to read the entire article, along with some of the related stories in the sidebar.
Cannabis interacts with our brain through chemical receptors (namely cannabinoid receptors such as CB1 and CB2.) These receptors are situated in the areas of our brain that govern our learning and management of rewards, motivated behavior, decision-making, habit formation and motor function. As the structure of the brain changes rapidly during adolescence (before settling in adulthood), scientists believe that the cannabis consumption at this time greatly influences the way these parts of the user’s personality develop.
(Science Daily, 08/28/2013)
As the writers go on to say, this isn’t about whether or not cannabis is good, bad or indifferent. It’s about addressing a public health issue that has a serious impact on millions of kids, and about educating lawmakers and the public so that we can make some informed decisions about future handling of cannabis and cannabis products legally and medically. As with alcohol, it’s impossible to control a drug that can be produced without any technical skills worth mentioning. Instead, we must arrive at strategies to mitigate harm that is already occurring and will inevitably continue.