Pot for self-medication

Problem teenagers and cannabis – the chicken and the egg

By Bart Braun

Teenagers who smoke weed have other behaviour problems, but which is the cause and which is the effect? "Perhaps they use cannabis to calm down, or to suppress disturbing thoughts."

Not so very long ago, the Dutch regarded smoking pot as an innocent pastime: harmless plants, all natural and the smokers are so chill and relaxed, dude.

That view has gradually been adjusted in recent years. Pot might not be physically addictive, but problem pot smokers do exist and the number of people seeking help rises every year. It has also become increasingly obvious that hash and marijuana – particularly the selectively grown hemp varieties – can induce schizophrenia and psychosis in people who are susceptible to it. Compared to alcohol, the impact of cannabis on society is slight but it has lost its aura of innocence.

There is much concern about teenagers who smoke pot. Because their brains are still developing, they are even more susceptible to the detrimental effects of a joint. According to the Trimbos Institute, approximately one sixth of all teenagers has tried pot at some time. Four per cent of schoolchildren smoke a joint more than three times a month, a worrying development because, on average, stoners don’t do so well. They perform poorly at school, are more aggressive, suffer more often from depression and come into contact with the police more frequently.

So what is going on here? Does weed turn normal pupils into problem teenagers, or are problem teenagers more likely to smoke pot? Or perhaps there is some cross-sectoral factor, for example, do children from poorer areas both have more problems and smoke weed more often, without there being any relation between either aspects?

Psychologist Merel Griffith studied the issue for her doctoral thesis Cannabis use, cognitive functioning and behaviour problems, for which she hopes to be awarded her doctorate this week. For her research, she picked up on a large-scale study among some two thousand pupils in the north of the Netherlands. The subjects were measured fourteen times, at the ages of 11, 13, 16 and 19. "We concentrated on the chicken–and-the-egg question", she says concisely.

In reality, psychological research reveals that all too often something proves to be both the chicken and the egg. This case was no different: adolescents who were more susceptible to psychosis smoked weed more often, and because they smoked weed more often, they were more susceptible to psychosis. Aggressive teenagers were different: children who are already aggressive at a young age are more likely to smoke weed, but not the other way round. "Moreover, we couldn’t find any evidence for a correlation between cannabis and depression or anxiety; perhaps the group was too young for that", says

Griffith. "Perhaps they didn’t take enough cannabis to induce detrimental effects on internalising behaviour problems like depression. Or maybe internalising behaviour only manifests itself in early adulthood."

Another possibility is that, for aggressive teenagers, smoking pot is a type of experimental behaviour, but Griffith and her colleagues suspect that the matter is more nuanced. "Maybe they use cannabis to calm down, or to suppress disturbing thoughts." Nederwiet for self-medication.

That sounds good, but it isn’t. If a child needs medicine, the medicine should be prescribed by a GP, not acquired from a kid on a scooter on the playground or a dubious cannabis café. "Considering the effects on the brain, it is important to put off taking cannabis, especially as the younger a person is, the more likely it is he or she will eventually become a habitual smoker. Susceptible children should be closely monitored too."

Griffith’s research can help trace these susceptible children. Aggressive and assertive children have an increased risk of becoming pot smokers, though by contrast, children who work well with others seems have some protection.

The government’s current policy is to prohibit cannabis cafés near schools. Time will tell whether that measure is effective: only a minority of schoolchildren buy their cannabis there, according to research by the Trimbos Institute. Griffith adds:

"I personally don’t know whether the prohibition will stop teenagers from acquiring cannabis. We know that Dutch adolescents can get hold of cannabis easily. They regard taking cannabis as normal - they don’t see any danger in it and that is perhaps a better indicator for cannabis use. If you want these children to put off taking it, you need to do something to change that attitude."The researcher stresses that smoking weed is not all bad news: "The literature reveals that experimenting with alcohol, smoking and weed during adolescence can be a good thing too. They experiment in social settings, with their friends, and that can be good for their social skills. Besides, experimenting at this age is more normal than not experimenting at all as a teenager – the latter is rather deviant. After all, who had his first beer at twenty?"

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Pot for self-medication

Teenagers who smoke weed have other behaviour problems, but which is the cause and which …