Two neuroscientists from Indiana University have received a $2 million grant to explore what impact cannabis use by young teenagers could have later in life. The research is prompted by the growing number of states legalizing marijuana.
The IU researchers are focusing specifically on adolescents ages 12 to 14 as it is considered a critical period of brain development. The grant came from the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse with a goal of developing therapies to treat adverse effects in humans.
“This is a significant public health concern,” said Professor Hui-Chen Lu, director of the IU Gill Center for Biomolecular Science Center. “Today’s cannabis strains are being bred for increased THC content. It’s very different and much riskier than the more traditional strains used in the past. There’s an urgent need to understand the effects of these new strains.”
Ken Mackie, a professor in the IU Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, says studies indicate that heavy use of cannabis with high THC increases the risk of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders from two- to five-fold, especially among the test group.
“One of the functions of the prefrontal cortex is working memory, as well as processes like planning and impulse control,” said Mackie. “That part of the brain is still developing in adolescence, and developing brain structures are particularly vulnerable to environmental impacts, such as drug use or stress.”
Lu says in states where marijuana is legal, many dispensaries sell edible products such as chocolate and cookies, which are very attractive to young people.
Lu and Mackie will also be studying CBD because the consumption of marijuana may involve a mix of CBD and THC.