Teen Pot Use Does Not Lead to Physical or Mental Health Issues Later in Life

By Zachary Siegel 08/05/15

So says a new study that contradicts more established science.

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As legal reform has increased the availability of marijuana in recent years, anti-drug pundits have turned increasingly to science that says marijuana damages the developing brain, in order to derail the push for total legalization.

Some institutions regularly churn out papers that demonstrate marijuana decreases IQ points and impairs brain development. A new longitudinal study, however, complicates these findings that get inserted into anti-drug campaigns.

Researchers from Rutgers University and Pittsburgh Medical Center studied 408 males who used marijuana starting in their teens, and followed them up until their mid-30s.

Analysis of the data found the young men who are now adults fell into four groups: no use or low use, early chronic users (some smoked nearly 200 days per year), those who only used during teenage years, and lastly those who began smoking later and continued into their adulthood.

There were no links found to physical or mental problems in any of the groups, even in early chronic users. Other factors such as cigarette smoking, access to health insurance, and other drug use were controlled for.

In a press release, senior author Jordan Bechtold said, "What we found was a little surprising." They also found no link to a wide range of other physical and mental health issues such as cancer, asthma, respiratory problems, depression, anxiety, allergies, headaches, or high blood pressure.

Bechtold also said he wanted to "help inform the debate about legalization of marijuana." The issue of marijuana legalization and subsequent use amongst young people is complex, and the authors of the present study stated their findings ought to be viewed within the context of other studies involving teenage marijuana use.

One major limitation of the study, according to the authors, is that it ended when participants were in their 30s, "which may be too early for decrements in health to emerge."

The next step for future research is to continue data collection complemented with longer follow-ups.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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