With the impending legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada, Dr. Antoine Kanamugire - a Montreal-area doctor and author of the book 'The 21 Unspoken Truths About Marijuana' - is looking to raise awareness of what he considers to be the addictive and potentially devastating qualities of the drug.
“Where we are just months away from the legalization of marijuana in Canada, I think it’s important that we engage in a discussion about the drug. When it’s legalized, I believe there will be a tendency to downplay or trivialize the impact that the drug can have, especially among youth,” Dr. Kanamugire told Civilized.
He says that among the general population, approximately 10 percent of marijuana users will become addicted, but among teens, the figure jumps to 17 percent.
“When addiction kicks in and the person is more exposed to the substance, they begin taking heavier and more frequent doses of the drug. In youth, increased drug usage stands to interfere with brain development, especially in those under 25 years of age.”
While scientists previously believed the growth of a person’s hippocampus – the part of the brain associated with memory, and where new neurons are generated – essentially stalled at youth, further research showed the opposite held true. A team of scientists used hippocampi taken from more than two-dozen individuals aged between 14 and 79. Each of the subjects received a clean bill of health before they suddenly died. Not only did the scientists look for signs of new neural growth, they also examined the state of the blood vessels in this part of the brain.
What they discovered was that so long as that specific area of the nervous system is in moderate shape, the hippocampus stays roughly the same size and that new cells continue to grow throughout our lives.
“Studies have shown the brain develops from the back to the front, and that the front part of the brain develops later in life. Those who start using substances, including cannabis, interfere with the proper brain development in the frontal lobe, or pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain involved in crucial decision making, focus, inhibition, judgement and planning. The executive functions, in other words.”
It is Dr. Kanamugire’s hopes that teens and youth considering using marijuana will not take the decision lightly.
“I’m just looking for people to hear both sides of the story, not just what cannabis advocates are saying,” he told Civilized. “Everyone, especially parents and teens, need to know there are risks associated with the substance, and that they should be making decisions based on educated choices. We’ve arrived at a crucial moment where these things need to be discussed.”
In addition to interfering with brain development, leading to decreased academic performance in school, Dr. Kanamugire said regular marijuana use can negatively impact balance and coordination, increasing the risk of a fall or accident.
“There is also a common narrative that marijuana heals depression when studies have shown that teens using cannabis on a recreational level are actually two to four times more likely to experience depressive symptoms while still in their teens or later in life,” he noted.
“But at the end of the day, we don’t want to see a generation of young people jumping into heavy use because they think it’s a harmless drug. This isn’t a subject to take lightly. One of the main thrusts behind my book is that I’m seeking to raise awareness of the impact that the drug can have, especially among those struggling to find clear answers in a bid to have an open and honest conversation with their children about the effects of cannabis.”