Teens may have a higher natural tolerance for cannabis than adults, which might make them more at risk to develop problematic use patterns, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University College of London (UCL) have found that teens aged 16 to 17 felt fewer of the negative effects of cannabis consumption than adults aged 24 to 28. Older cannabis consumers are likelier to be less alert and to experience side effects like anxiety and memory impairment after smoking marijuana than younger folks who used the drug.
"We were very surprised," Val Curran—the study's lead researcher and a UCL professor of psychology—told The Telegraph. "You would have thought the adolescent brain, because of the stage it is at in its development, would have been more vulnerable, but it's less."
While it isn't clear right now why teens are less immediately affected by cannabis consumption, Curran suggested it could have to do with their metabolism, or their more impulsive nature.
In addition to their increased tolerance to cannabis, teens also displayed greater desire to consume more cannabis than adults. The combination of higher tolerance and increased desire to consume marijuana could mean teen cannabis consumers are more at risk to over indulge. And that's a huge problem, Curran warned, because being less susceptible to cannabis' short-term effects does not mean teens are immune to the potential long-term risks of cannabis consumption.
"If adolescents do not feel satiated after an acute dose of the drug whilst also experiencing fewer negative effects, they may well use more cannabis in a smoking session than adults, potentially contributing to the increased risk of long-term harms associated with younger age of use, including addiction."
Curran said that while her findings surprised her, they simply served to reinforce her belief that the UK needs to overhaul its cannabis policy. She believes that a government-regulated cannabis market would reduce youth access to the drug.
"Our present system is not working and I would much rather the state had control of these things," Curran said. "I would rather see cannabis packs and a market controlled by people who care about young people’s health."
Recreational cannabis continues to be illegal across the UK. And while the nation did officially legalize medical marijuana last year, it remains extremely difficult for most patients to get. That means there's no incentive for the black market to stop selling cannabis to adolescents as well as other customers.