Teens who routinely smoke marijuana risk a long-term drop in their IQ, a new study suggests.The study abstract is after the jump. The U. Otago press release is here.
The researchers didn't find the same IQ dip for people who became frequent users of pot after 18. Although experts said the new findings are not definitive, they do fit in with earlier signs that the drug is especially harmful to the developing brain.
"Parents should understand that their adolescents are particularly vulnerable,'" said lead researcher Madeline Meier of Duke University.
Study participants from New Zealand were tested for IQ at age 13, likely before any significant marijuana use, and again at age 38. The mental decline between those two ages was seen only in those who started regularly smoking pot before age 18.
Richie Poulton, a study co-author and professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said the message of the research is to stay away from marijuana until adulthood if possible. "For some it's a legal issue," he said, "but for me it's a health issue."* * *Those deemed dependent in three or more surveys had a drop averaging 8 points. For a person of average intelligence, an 8-point drop would mean ranking higher than only 29 percent of the population rather than 50 percent, the researchers said.
Recent reports show that fewer adolescents believe that regular cannabis use is harmful to health. Concomitantly, adolescents are initiating cannabis use at younger ages, and more adolescents are using cannabis on a daily basis. The purpose of the present study was to test the association between persistent cannabis use and neuropsychological decline and determine whether decline is concentrated among adolescent-onset cannabis users. Participants were members of the Dunedin Study, a prospective study of a birth cohort of 1,037 individuals followed from birth (1972/1973) to age 38 y. Cannabis use was ascertained in interviews at ages 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38 y. Neuropsychological testing was conducted at age 13 y, before initiation of cannabis use, and again at age 38 y, after a pattern of persistent cannabis use had developed. Persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline broadly across domains of functioning, even after controlling for years of education. Informants also reported noticing more cognitive problems for persistent cannabis users. Impairment was concentrated among adolescent-onset cannabis users, with more persistent use associated with greater decline. Further, cessation of cannabis use did not fully restore neuropsychological functioning among adolescent-onset cannabis users. Findings are suggestive of a neurotoxic effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain and highlight the importance of prevention and policy efforts targeting adolescents.