Hey Teens! Is Cannabis Bad for Your Brain or Mental Health?

With marijuana becoming legal in states across the nation, people are taking up a new perspective. What was once considered a dangerous narcotic is now finding positive light in medical use. But can cannabis harm the brain and associated mental health? More here.

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New Perspectives

In recent years, marijuana has been linked on weed-advocate websites to reduced levels of anxiety or depression. So, there are many smokers who strongly believe the drug can help with mental health. But some of their claims are loose, at best.

Research shows variable influence of marijuana on mental health issues…and some research even indicates that conditions like anxiety can be positively associated with cannabis use.

More and more young people are trying cannabis on a daily basis. In fact, by the end of today, the National Institutes on Drug abuse estimate that about 6,600 will have taken their first toke. Teenagers just don’t see any harm in marijuana use. Especially, when comparing it to the negative effects of alcohol or harder drugs.

Furthermore, weed has become widely more available to teenagers. According to a study by the Lancet Psychiatry, nearly every high school student knows of someone who smokes. And about 60% know where these smokers get their weed from.

Combining cannabis’ easy accessibility and medical benefits gives us an understanding as to why more teenagers are trying it.

However, when considering the fact that weed is more potent than it was twenty years ago, there’s much concern in how this all affects their mental health. And it’s not just teenagers to be worry about. Adults who smoke chronically are also putting themselves in danger of developing mental illnesses.

We invite you to read along and join us on this understanding of the true effects marijuana has on the brain. If you have any questions or details of your own, we’d love to hear what you have to say.

How Can Marijuana Negatively Affect the Brain?

When discussing the impact cannabis has on your mental health, there are two important factors to keep in mind.

FACTOR 1: The first is when the user is diagnosed with Marijuana (Cannabis) Use Disorder. People who suffer from the illness tend to show signs of addiction that we outline towards the end of the article. What ultimately decides this diagnosis is how frequently you smoke (weekly or more), the dosage you take, and/or how long the effects of this dosage last.

FACTOR 2: The second factor is what age you started smoking. Those who start smoking weed before their eighteenth birthday are at risk of harming two key developing stages of the brain. The first is known as synaptic pruning, the deletion of old neuron connections. The second is the growth of white matter, a transmission signal.

When these two factors are combined, there’s a likely chance certain mental disorders can develop. Truly, it all depends on the individual. Some may be more prone to depression while their smoking buddies might have higher risks of developing schizophrenia.


So, how is smoking weed related to psychotic states and, ultimately, schizophrenia?

Research has indicated that using cannabis at an early age for a frequent amount of time can be part of the cause of psychosis. This means cannabis-triggered mental states can interact with other psychoses such as a history of childhood abuse or genetically adopted psychosis. Due to the fact that there are other determiners at play here besides marijuana, it isn’t entirely certain how smoking weed is associated with previously devised psychoses.

Still, the fact remains that cannabis has a strong connection with developing or furthering a psychosis.

Both conditions create similar symptoms in the brain. These include:

  • Impaired memory.
  • Impaired cognition.
  • Impaired processing of external stimuli.

As these symptoms merge, the affected individual experiences problems in learning and remembering. And though it’s not as likely, they can also encounter hallucinations and mislead thinking. Symptoms of psychosis can also increase if an individual is experiencing them without cannabis, then decides to start smoking.

Depending on the dosage or frequency of a weed smoker, schizophrenia can emerge. In fact, those who use daily are double at risk of the mental disorder in comparison to those who don’t. Even those who had only spent a period of their life smoking marijuana have retained a 40% more likely chance of developing schizophrenia in comparison to those who never tried it.

That said, not everyone who smokes pot is prone to a psychosis. As mentioned earlier, marijuana’s effects on individuals vary from person to person. Therefore, though someone might not be at risk of developing schizophrenia, there are other mental illnesses that can come about.

Depression and Anxiety

In comparison to schizophrenia, this topic is a bit trickier as there are many smokers out there who’ll advocate that cannabis has helped them in their battles with depression and anxiety. Yet, at the same time, there will also be those who claim marijuana has only made these mental illnesses worse.

In a study by Cambridge University, it was discovered that people who smoke daily were placed at modest risk of developing depression. It should be noted that this risk isn’t necessarily caused by cannabis itself. Rather, it depends on how the user goes about their smoking habit.

For example, there are some people whose lives will be highly affected. These people will make bad decisions that correlate with their marijuana habit such as dropping out of school or going unemployed. It’s the connection between poor life choices and weed that can prompt depression.

Likewise, anxiety is a difficult subject as not everyone feels the same way. Some will try to assure you that cannabis helps them relax and relieves much of their anxiety…while others assert they feel an overwhelming anxiety or paranoia when they get stoned.

BMC Psychiatry assembled 31 different researches to look into the matter. Their conclusion was that marijuana caused little risk for developing anxiety. However, the researchers weren’t denying that cannabis could cause anxiety when the user’s intoxicated. There problem was simply a lack of evidence.

Pre-Existing Conditions

The studies mentioned above inform us that cannabis doesn’t seem to inflict depression or anxiety as it can impose schizophrenia. But they don’t advise us on whether marijuana does harm to people already suffering from mental health issues.

With a collection of data between the years of 2001 to 2002 and 2004 to 2005, a study was made looking into this matter. The research found that there are a variety of factors which play into how a person suffering from mental health will react to THC. These include:

1. Demographic status.
2. Living environment.
3. Family genetics.

When Should Weed Use Become a Concern?

When comparing substances, cannabis isn’t necessarily the most addictive or threatening. That’s not to say people can’t develop an unhealthy dependence. Rather, if someone were to give weed a try, they’re not as likely to fall into an life-altering habit as with other drugs.

Still, addictions will arise with consistent use. And there comes a point in every chronic smokers life when marijuana is an issue. Usually, when it begins to interfere with their personal, social, and professional lives.

In order to know whether a loved one’s or your own smoking habit is a problem, consider the following:

  • Have you ever felt a strong craving or urge to get high?
  • Have you ever felt a desire to quit, but couldn’t successfully do so?
  • Have you been smoking for a longer amount of time than you originally intended?
  • Has smoking weed affected your performance at work, school, or home?
  • Do you use marijuana in physically threatening circumstances (i.e. driving)?
  • Have you built up a tolerance to its effects and need more in order to feel high?
  • Do you cease to involve yourself in activities you enjoyed before trying cannabis?
  • Has it caused problems with your relationships (spouse, family, friends, boss, etc.)?
  • Have you ever not used for a period of time and felt withdrawal symptoms?
  • Have you continued to smoke weed when you’re aware of negative physical and mental health problems that have arised?

If you or your loved one has experienced two or more of the above signs, then it’s likely a Marijuana (Cannabis) Use Disorder is present. This is when your smoking habit has become an issue in your life and an addiction has developed. The main indicators of any addiction include three main characteristics:

1. Loss of control related to drug use. Smoking more weed, more frequently than planned.
2. Cravings, obsession, and compulsion to use.
3. Being unable to stop on your own, despite negative consequences to home, health, work, or social life.

NOTE HERE: In order to be certain of how you or a loved one has been affected by cannabis use, visit a licensed clinical psychologist, addiction doctor, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker for a proper diagnosis. The following information is intended for research purposes.


The bottom line is that marijuana can be harmful to your mental health, depending on who you are as an individual. Though not everyone who smokes will develop or heighten a mental disorder, the chance is there and shouldn’t be ignored.

Furthermore, people with no history in mental health can still develop a Marijuana (Cannabis) Use Disorder. Weed is addictive and has similar dependent qualities as other substances.

You might be wondering how marijuana is affecting you personally. As already mentioned, the drug works differently within everyone. The research doesn’t give us too many indicates as to how it generally affects an individual’s mental health.

Therefore, you’ll want to speak to either a psychiatrist, counselor, or doctor on the matter. With their advice, you’ll develop a better understanding as to whether the substance is harming you and what next steps you can take.

About the author
Paul James is a mental health and addiction writer. He's spent the last year and a half spreading awareness and knowledge in hopes of ending the stigmas attached to these topics. You can read more on his blog .
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