by Jenna Rieder
Though marijuana’s popularity has fluctuated over past generations, it remains a major drug used by teenagers and young adults. Marijuana’s “high,” achieved through interaction of the active ingredient, THC, with cannaboid receptors in the amygdala, hippocampus, and areas of the frontal and motor cortices, can affect motor activities as well as cognition and emotion (Myers, 2007). Yet, different studies suggest various amounts of harm posed by the drug, leaving scientists to question the level of danger surrounding marijuana use. One Swedish study found that marijuana users who abstain from tobacco products are generally unaltered. The study tested students from ages 16-20 who reported using marijuana, marijuana and tobacco products, or neither substance. Although nonusers proved more motivated and successful than marijuana and tobacco users, teens who used only marijuana suffered few consequences. The teens smoking only marijuana tended more towards athleticism, good peer relationships, high grades and motivation. Nonusers were ranked similarly in these categories. In general, marijuana users fared well socially, showing no defects in their interactions and relationships. Interestingly, another study echoes these results, though making a distinction between regular and sporadic marijuana users. Researchers tracing emotional intelligence among different groups of teens found that occasional marijuana users exhibited high levels of emotional and social comprehension. Teens who used marijuana more often, on the other hand, exhibited strained interactions and lower understanding.These results are striking, considering marijuana’s long-term effects on different regions of the frontal cortex and limbic system. Given the drugs tendency to linger in the body, affecting skills like cognition for months after, similar affects on emotion would be expected. Perhaps the emotionally instability and confusion associated with marijuana stems from the fact that teens facing these insecurities are more likely to use drugs. Though teens who occasionally use marijuana may exhibit some sense of rebellion and lawlessness, they also practice moderation. This sense of moderation may reflect stability, thus shielding the teens from emotional consequences. However, marijuana may also affect cognition and emotion differently. Interactions of THC with cannaboid receptors in the frontal cortex may differ from those between THC and receptors in the limbic system. Further physiological study of these interactions could be an interesting topic of research.[Editor’s note: It is interesting that the studies in this post are all based on correlational data. As the last paragraph suggests, there is always more than one possible explanation for a correlation.)
Myers, D. G. (2007). Psychology. (8th ed.) New York: Worth.