Portions of this post are from Partnership for Youth’s “Marijuana and Youth Health” Handout
Teen brains are awesome because they are primed for learning! That means that if an adult and a teenager both start learning a new sport, a new instrument, or a new language, the teenager will likely learn much faster and retain the information better. That also means that teen brains can become dependent on or addicted to new substances faster than adult brains – they “learn” to need the substance faster. This is true for cannabis, other substances, and also for new habits or behaviors.
In the adolescent brain, the circuits that seek reward and provide motivation for action are operating at high speed. Reward-seeking is a normal part of this time of life, when young people are exploring, leaving the safety of their homes, trying out new things and establishing their own identities.
But at the same time, the drive for reward may cause them to take risks for immediate pleasure without pausing to think about longer-term consequences.
Risk-taking is more common among adolescents than adults because in the adolescent brain, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that exercises impulse control, is still developing through the teen years and into the early 20s. This may result in youth using cannabis because they crave the “high”, because they want to fit in with their peers (peer approval is a strong reward for adolescents), or because they think it will help them deal with stress, without fully considering the pros and cons as an adult would.
In other words, because the brain is developing rapidly during the adolescent years, outside influences can have a lasting effect, whether those influences are positive or harmful.
The bottom line: Cannabis use is more dangerous for young people than it is for adults.