The NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded more than $2 million to Indiana University’s Gill Center for Biomolecular Science to support research on the risks associated with adolescent cannabis use. Researchers there will first employ a mouse model to better understand how cannabis use impacts adolescent working memory and then assess the risk of psychosis in these populations as older adults.
Gill Center Director Dr. Hui-Chen Lu believes teen cannabis vaping is a significant public health concern. Lu is concerned that adolescents are using high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency products, but there is little research on how these cannabis products affects human development in the long term. Lu explains, "Today's cannabis strains are being bred for increased THC content. It's very different and much riskier than the more traditional strains used in the past. There's an urgent need to understand the effects of these new strains." Preliminary studies have indicated that heavy use of high THC products can double the risk of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders especially for users who start cannabis use between the ages 12 and 14.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for working memory, executive planning, and impulse control. This brain region is still developing in adolescence, and environmental influences like substance abuse or stress can shape brain structure development. Although many medical professionals recommend that teens abstain from cannabis use entirely for this reason, there are some ways to reduce cannabis vaping risks for those who do partake. Cannabinoid products should only be purchased from state licensed cannabis business operators who guarantee extensive third-party lab testing. Although researchers have not determined the exact cannabis vape ingredients that are most harmful, many studies suggest that additives like Vitamin E, flavoring, pesticides, or solvents remaining from the processing stage may be the most dangerous elements.
The Indiana University mouse model will include male and female mice of diverse genetic backgrounds in order to evaluate sex dependent differences, and mimic human diversity. Hopefully the results of this study will potentially lead to better insights into interventions to reduce adolescent cannabis use and minimize associated health risks.