With more and more states legalizing recreational marijuana, there are a growing number of parents with questions and concerns about the use of marijuana in teens. While use may be legal after the age of 21, research tells us that the brain is not fully developed until age 25 and adding chemicals to the brain during it’s development may create lasting damage to the structures, especially in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain that is known to control the executive functions: direction of attention, effort, planning, prioritization, time management, and affect regulation, to name a few. Adolescents with AD/HD are especially vulnerable as they are at increased risk for impulsive, risky behaviors (such as drug use) and, by virtue of their AD/HD, already struggle with executive function skills.
For an interesting article reviewing the literature based on brain scans, see this article by Dr. Daniel Amen, a neuropsychiatrist at the forefront of brain imaging studies in mental health.
Another concerning fact about marijuana and cigarette use in teens is the connection between teen use and later development of psychosis. You can read more about that research here.
So what’s a parent to do? Talk to your children starting in the elementary years to encourage general well-being–good nutrition, sleep, exercise, and education–as well as specifically discussing your desire for them to stay drug and alcohol free. In the tween years, keep the conversation going about respecting their growing bodies and growing brains by keeping them healthy and free of chemicals. Stay involved in their activities, encourage healthy hobbies, and get to know not only their friends but their friends’ parents. Keep the lines of communication open as they move into their teen years and continue the dialogue. If you are suspicious that your child has AD/HD, or if they have already been diagnosed, it may be especially important for him or her to have an evaluation and/or to be in treatment, and to monitor risk-taking behavior.
For more about AD/HD or executive functioning skills, give us a call. We are well-versed in assessment of AD/HD in children, teens, and adults, and can counsel you on treatment options and educational accommodations. For more information, contact us here.