Marijuana and Academic Performance
Proponents of marijuana use tout its harmlessness, claiming that it’s not addictive and totally innocuous. However, the truth is that around 9% of marijuana users become addicted, and heavy use from a young age can have permanent detrimental effects on brain function. Adolescents who begin smoking marijuana frequently have a risk of becoming addicted, doing poorly in school, and needing treatment in drug rehab.
Marijuana is one of the most used drugs by adolescents and college aged young adults. In 2014, daily marijuana use was at 5.9% among college students. Among younger kids, 6% of high school seniors smoke pot daily, and 21.2% reported last-month use of marijuana. However, only 36.1% of 12th graders believe that regular marijuana use puts the user at great risk. This is a problem, as research has shown that heavy marijuana use from a young age can irrevocably damage brains and hamper academic success, sometimes necessitating treatment in an addiction treatment facility.
The most obvious detrimental effect of regular marijuana use is that it causes students to miss class in order to get high. As students miss out on classes, they fall behind on material, become discouraged, and stop doing homework. They perform poorly on tests and projects, and their GPA suffers as a result.
Unfortunately, heavy marijuana use also affects young adults in less visible ways. A study has found that marijuana impairs the function of working memory. We use working memory to process the things that are happening immediately around us. Like a constantly erasing whiteboard, working memory is distinctively short-term and is crucial to tasks like focusing, concentrating, and following instructions. Teenage participants receiving treatment in an addiction recovery program for marijuana addiction were found to have impaired working memory, which means they will have more trouble paying attention and staying focused while at school.
In addition to working memory, long-term sustained marijuana use damages the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is associated with making decisions and motivation. When confronted with the decision to perform a certain action, the orbitofrontal cortex weighs the perceived rewards or punishments that action will merit, and uses that information to make a decision. Once the action is performed, and the reward or punishment has been delivered, the orbitofrontal cortex then compares the perceived outcome against the actual outcome, and learns whether or not the action was positive or negative. Thus, the orbitofrontal cortex is crucial for behavioral adaptation. Those who have a damaged orbitofrontal cortex will have a harder time adapting to new challenges and being flexible, another key trait for succeeding in school.
Perhaps most disturbingly, a longitudinal study from New Zealand found that heavy marijuana use that begins in the teen years can result in a loss of an average of eight IQ points by mid-adulthood.
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