Serious drug problems with substances like heroin, cocaine and powerful prescription painkillers can often push marijuana to the back burner. Lobbying to make pot legal has also helped perpetuate the attitude that it’s not really harmful or as dangerous as those other “hard” drugs.
If that’s how you feel, a new study may just change your mind about that. Parents of teens should pay particularly close attention.
Teens who smoke marijuana see their IQs drop as adults, and deficits persist even after quitting, according to a new Duke University study.
To determine this, researchers followed 1,037 New Zealand children for 25 years. Study subjects took IQ tests at age 13, before any of them had smoked marijuana, and again at age 38. Throughout the study, participants also answered several surveys about their drug use. As their teen years progressed, approximately five percent of the study participants started smoking pot.
Here’s where it really gets interesting:
Those who used marijuana at least four times a week and used marijuana throughout their lives saw their IQ drop an average of eight points, the equivalent of going from an A to a B student. The drop was not explained by other drug use, years of education, schizophrenia or using marijuana in the day before the test.
In more bad news, quitting did little to help the user regain that lost brain power. People who eventually quit smoking pot still had lower IQs than they did at the start of the study. Conversely, late bloomers who didn’t begin smoking pot until they were adults had no IQ drop.
The study is of particular note because it is the first to associate intelligence declines with marijuana use. While low IQ and marijuana have been linked before, those studies were structured in a way that couldn’t rule out the possibility that people who choose to smoke pot are inherently less smart than abstainers in the first place.
Marijuana and the Teen Mind
Another noteworthy find here is that pot seems to be particularly harmful to the teen brain, most likely because teens’ brains are still developing in critical ways during those years. It also suggests that those who consistently smoke marijuana may make less intellectually stimulating choices at critical points in life. For instance, pot users may be less inclined to attend classes or do other activities that give the brain a workout. Getting off track early on can also limit future opportunities and thereby reduce IQ.
So all those images of pot-smoking slackers in the media may have some scientific basis now. At the very least, the findings are a good reminder that all substance use affects us and there’s no such thing as a harmless drug.
The study is detailed in the most recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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