Smokers who started at age 14 compared to 17 show significantly worse results in cognitive tests

A Université de Montréal study has shown that the age you start smoking pot can make the difference between dropping out and making no difference at all compared to non-smokers. Castellanos-Ryan and her team of researchers looked at 294 white French-speaking teenagers from poorer neighbourhoods starting at age 13 for a seven-year period.

The study provides some worrying stats for those people who decided that smoking pot at the age of 14 was actually completely fine and that all our parents and teachers were doing was lying to them.

The study provides some worrying stats for those people who decided that smoking pot at the age of 14 was actually completely fine and that all their parents and teachers were doing was lying to them. Although the study is not exact proof and does not show a difference that is entirely damning, it would be nice to think that young people’s decision hadn’t made learning significantly harder, now that many of them are at university trying to grasp 16th century poetry or new quantum theory.

The studies’ methodology included taking a yearly questionnaire between the ages of 13 to 17 and then a final one at the age of 20. It also included a variety of cognitive tests that the subjects took at ages 13, 14 and 20. 43% of the individuals reported smoking during this period, most only a few times a year. Out of those 43%, 51% reported still using the drug. Early on in the study researchers found that those who were smoking already had poor short-term and working memory whilst still maintaining good verbal skills and vocabulary. However, further down the line those who started smoking early also began to show difficulties in their verbal and cognitive ability when learning via trial and error.

The researchers suggest that the neurotoxic effects of cannabis may not necessarily be at play but rather that smoking pot can put you in circumstances that cause you to be affected, such as skipping school to smoke or not waking up in the morning to go. However, that is not to say it is the individual’s own fault – the drug causes this behaviour in its consumers.

The neurotoxic effects of cannabis may not necessarily be at play but rather that smoking pot can put you in circumstances that cause you to be affected

Castellanos-Ryan stressed that this research should not be viewed as global or widespread: the results may be quite different for different genders and may also vary for individuals from wealthier backgrounds, who may have a higher level of support in comparison to their poorer counterparts.

To prevent the worst effects of smoking pot the researchers believe focusing on trying to delay the use of cannabis until adolescents are older, would be most effective. Especially since nowadays cannabis is far morepotent than it was in the 90s. “But it is important to stick to the evidence we have and not exaggerate the negatives of cannabis”, Castellanos-Ryan cautioned. “We can’t tell children, ‘If you smoke cannabis you’re going to damage your brain massively and ruin your life.’ We have to be realistic and say, ‘We are finding evidence that there are some negative effects related to cannabis use, especially if you start early, and so, if you can hold off as long as you can – at least until you’re 17 – then it’s less likely there’ll be an impact on your brain.’”

IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons

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Duncan Michie

Science and Technology Editor

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