A young teen

Can marijuana affect brain development?

Some negative effects of marijuana on teen brain development have been shown. The prefrontal cortex does not reach full maturity until the early twenties, meaning that many complex processes of the adolescent brain are still in progress. Neuroscientific research indicates that during this time, teens are especially vulnerable to the effects of cannabis.

Delaying or preventing the start of regular marijuana use to adulthood can prevent long-term damage to neurons and ensure optimal brain health and functioning.

How does marijuana affect teens' control of impulses and emotions?

Teen marijuana smokers often have less self-control, which can lead to unsafe behavior. Brain imaging shows that regular users of marijuana have less gray matter than nonusers in the region of the brain that contributes to impulse control, as well as to decision making and learning.

Additionally, results of multiple studies have found that teens who started using marijuana at a young age showed less control of inhibitions. Because the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain are vulnerable in youth, cannabis can reduce impulse control and emotional regulation.

A graphic listing the impacts of cannabis on the teen brain: less control of emotions, worse problem-solving, reduced attention span, lower verbal comprehension, and poorer memory

Does cannabis use reduce teen IQ?

The simple answer is yes. Heavy marijuana use starting in teens or younger may lower IQ by as many as eight points. And the loss of IQ is permanent. Heavy use also causes loss in brain processing speed and memory.*

* This study followed over 1,000 cannabis users from ages 13 to 38 years of age.
“Adolescence is the absolute worst time to introduce mind-altering drugs, such as marijuana, because it can disrupt development. Think of the teen years as the last golden opportunity to make the brain as healthy and smart as possible.”

Krista Lisdah, PhD, Director, Brain Imaging and Neuropsychology Lab, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee