More American teens risk mental defects, addiction due to increased marijuana use

Vendors openly sell marijuana plants and by-products during the 'Weed the People' event to celebrate the legalisation of recreational use of marijuana in Portland, Oregon, on July 3, 2015.Reuters

At present, recreational marijuana is readily available for purchase in four American states: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Because of the accessibility of pot nowadays, more and more teenagers in the United States are smoking it, thus exposing them to the risk of addiction and mental defects.

A recent survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) revealed an alarming finding: for the first time ever, more high school students are using marijuana daily compared to cigarettes.

The institute's director, Nora Volkow, acknowledged in an interview with The Atlantic that while this trend indicates success for the anti-tobacco campaigns among adolescents, the growing acceptance of smoking pot is alarming due to the health hazards it poses to the still developing brains of these teenagers.

Dr. Christopher Thurstone, a child psychiatrist from Colorado observed that less and less teens are recognising the harmful effects of marijuana use on their health ever since the legalisation of pot in some states.

"Pre-legalisation about 54 percent of 12-17 year-olds in Colorado reported great harm with regular marijuana use, and now post-legalisation that's dropped to about 34 percent," Thurstone told CNA.

"We're clearly seeing a significant decrease in the perceived harmfulness of marijuana, especially among young people," he added.

Thurstone, however, stressed that marijuana use can have harmful effects on the brain, especially among adolescents.

He explained that THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, binds to receptors in the brain and can cause a significant decrease in IQ over time.

Smoking pot can also lead to addiction and even risk of schizophrenia, he added.

"In the scientific and medical community there's no debate about that anymore," the child psychiatrist said. "Marijuana is not just psychologically addictive but [also] physically addictive."

Aside from this, marijuana use can also lead to more vehicular accidents, he said.