Cannabis in Adolescence: Lasting Cognitive Alterations and Underlying Mechanisms
Abstract: Cannabis consumption during adolescence is an area of particular concern, owing to changes in the social and political perception of the drug, and presents a scientific, medical, and economic challenge. Major social and economic interests continue to push toward cannabis legalization as well as pharmaceutical development. As a result, shifting perceptions of both legal and illicit cannabis use across the population have changed the collective evaluation of the potential dangers of the product.
The wave of cannabis legalization therefore comes with new responsibility to educate the public on potential risks and known dangers associated with both recreational and medical cannabis.
Among these is the risk of long-term cognitive and psychological consequences, particularly following early-life initiation of use, compounded by high-potency and heavy/frequent use of the drug. Underlying these cognitive and psychiatric consequences are lasting aberrations in the development of synaptic function, often secondary to epigenetic changes. Additional factors such as genetic risk and environmental influences or nondrug toxic insults during development are also profound contributors to these long-term functional alterations following adolescent cannabis use. Preclinical studies indicate that exposure to cannabinoids during specific windows of vulnerability (e.g., adolescence) impacts neurodevelopmental processes and behavior by durably changing dendritic structure and synaptic functions, including those normally mediated by endogenous cannabinoids and neuronal circuits.