HIGH TEENS: Examining The Controversy

I'm sometimes criticized for speaking out with concern about cannabis use in our teen population. But it's trued - I do worry that certain emotional and personality-development factors can be slowed down, impeded, or even out-right blocked and thrown into retrograde, when teenagers use weed regularly through their formative years.

We don't have hard science on this question yet - but psychological logic does indicate that emotional growth can be stunted or thrown off-kilter by being high every day.

I'm not talking about getting high on the weekend or occasionally - I'm talking about getting up and lighting up before going to school every day, or even every few days.

Let me share my logic and experience with you, not as a statement of fact, but as a statement of experienced concern.

Recent research has documented, fist of all, that no - heavy use of pot by high school students does not, overall, damage cognitive function as was previously assumed.

As Newsweek stated it, "In the new study, researchers set out to better understand the possible risk of frequent cannabis use and cognitive function among teenagers and young adults. Their research, which was sparked by the shifting cultural views and policy changes surrounding the drug, found that cognitive effects exist, but may not last long."

More specifically, when heavy teen-users of marijuana stopped using grass for 72 hours, all the cognitive reductions detected while they were high went away completely - they functioned normally on cognitive tests compared with their no-smoke peers.

Emotional Damage: But ... even if cognitive function isn't damaged long-term with pot, the emotional factor looms large. As a retired therapist, I've dealt with many clients who smoked all through high school and college - but then had to deal with certain emotional-development issues that seemed to have been provoked by hiding in a cloud of cannabis smoke when they might have been 'out there' getting banged around and forced to grow emotionally through a difficult stage.

Pot carries a definite double-edged impact - it can definitely help young people to be honest and observant of their thought and emotions, so they can cut through and transcend inhibitions and neurotic emotional patterns ... and grow emotionally. That can be very good.

But when pot is overused, and teenagers spend years in a haze of cannabis smoke - and avoid difficult emotional growth - then I feel cannabis is detrimental to personality development.

Universal Emotional Challenges: There's no way around the emotional challenges of growing up. We're all by our very nature bashful as adolescents, when the sex hormones suddenly disrupt our entire sense of who we are as young adults. Pubescence is vastly complex not only biologically but especially emotionally. We have intense feelings we never had before. We experience powerful sexual urges and pleasures but also massive anxieties and self-doubt and so forth.

To grow and mature, teenagers simply must face their emotional inhibitions and move through them through engaging with their peers, and growing emotionally into a new adult set of emotional expression. It's quite possible to get high all the time and successfully avoid all the trauma of growing up - but it's not really any success at all.

Being stunted emotionally is always a disaster scenario.

Therefore I stand my ground unless proven wrong, on this key factor of teen marijuana use in our culture. I have no objection to kids smoking a few times a month, or even a couple times a week. But I feel sad (and want to do something) for kids who fall into the rut of avoiding everyday emotional trauma by staying high through their teen years.

No Judgment Please: Having stated that concern that I feel quite strongly, I want to emphasize that this is my opinion and not a proven fact. I know quite a few adults who smoked their way through their teen years who are flourishing emotionally as adults - there's no absolute rule here. But we all know that humans avoid pain, both physical and also emotional, when possible.

We're biologically programmed with a whole grab bag of emotions that need to mature and evolve through rough and tumble social and intimate engagement with others. Marijuana temporarily does alleviate all kinds of anxiety and social inhibition - yes.

But as a therapist I know from observation and research that we grow when we confront our anxieties and insecurities and confusions, and put ourselves in position to have new experience in which we can grow and evolve and transcend youthful anxieties - and emerge as fully responsive adults.

Gotta Talk This Through: As a society now embracing cannabis in our everyday social fabric, we must openly talk about this key theme of teens and marijuana.

Kids experimenting with marijuana is usually a plus in my understanding - pot does open new doors, expand perspectives, relieve emotional anxieties, and set kids free to explore their own depths - and usually this is a definite plus in personality development and so forth.

But when grass or anything else is used habitually to avoid the very feelings and situations that enable teens to mature and evolve, there's a definite problem to be dealt with. Let's all talk this through together, all ages included, so that we become more educated, share various perspectives, and offer assistance to young adults moving through the inevitable traumas of teen life.

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