Teen Use of Marijuana May Lead to Bipolar-Like Symptoms Later on in Life

Marijuana use may help clinicians better identify those vulnerable to bipolar disorder and help them to develop better intervention methods.

While the effects of marijuana use on fully grown adults is still being debated, the impact on teens is becoming clearer. For decades, researchers have been trying to discover if marijuana use has any negative effects on adolescents. This is important because the teen years are when people usually start to experiment with it. One in three high school students use the drug, a recent survey found. 35% of 12th graders ingested cannabis within the past year, while 6% said they use pot daily or nearly so.

Previous research found that chronic use might act as a catalyst for a schizophrenic episode, for those barreling towards one. It can also interfere with brain development in the young. Several studies have found that chronic use from age 16 or before, can alter the development of the prefrontal cortex. This area grows rapidly during adolescence and doesn’t fully mature until one is in their mid-20s.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for complex reasoning, decision making, social information processing, and judgment. Unfortunately, the team in that study didn’t prove a causal relationship, merely a strong correlation. Although evidence is piling up, there really isn’t an ethical way to perform clinical trials that would provide clear causality.

It’s believed that use of marijuana before age 16 can impact the development of the prefrontal cortex. Credit: Getty Images.

Links between teen marijuana use and schizophrenia, mood disorders, and learning deficits have been investigated in depth. However, a link between bipolar disorder and teen use has received little attention, until now. Once known as manic depression, bipolar is when a person alternates between phases of mania and depression. In this study, researchers found that teens who used marijuana consistently, considered two to three times per week, were far more likely to experience hypomania or bipolar symptoms later in life.   

Researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK conducted the study. They were led by Dr. Steven Marwaha, a clinical psychologist there. He and his team’s findings were published in journal Schizophrenia Bulletin. Researchers specifically zeroed in on hypomania. This is on the manic side of bipolar which includes symptoms such as a lack of sleep, hyperactivity, and feelings of elation or excitement. Such mania can put a serious damper on one’s life.

Dr. Marwaha and colleagues examined the data of 3,370 participants, who were all part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). This birth cohort study follows 14,701 children born between April 1, 1991 and December 31, 1992. At age 17, each participant was asked about their marijuana use. Nearly 5% of boys and almost 2% of girls reported such use. While at ages 22-23, each received the Hypomania Checklist Questionnaire (HCL-32). This was a 32 question self-reported assessment evaluating participants on hypomanic behavior.

Until we find an ethical way to study how marijuana effects the teen brain, all of our knowledge on the subject will continue to be correlative rather than causal. Credit: Getty Images.

From the total pool, researchers identified 3,370 ALSPAC participants who showed symptoms of hypomania. Those who reported using marijuana 2-3 times per week at age 17 or before, were far more likely to report hypomania symptoms at 22-23. Any use in the teen years increased risk, and the higher the usage the greater the risk. Marwaha and colleagues adjusted for things like gender, abuse, adversity while young, alcohol and other drug use, and mental health issues such as anxiety or depression by age 18.

Men were more likely to show signs of hypomania, as they were more likely to have used marijuana. Another finding, physical or sexual abuse in childhood was indirectly linked with increased cannabis use and hypomania symptoms. Some experts hypothesize that cannabis may be used to help soothe emotional pain related to trauma, which left undealt with, may lead to a bipolar diagnosis later in life.

Dr. Marwaha said, "Adolescent cannabis use may be an independent risk factor for future hypomania, and the nature of the association suggests a potential causal link. As such it might be a useful target for indicated prevention of hypomania." The study did have limitations. For instance, in some cases, hypomania symptoms preceded cannabis use. Future research will either confirm or deny these results.

The good news is, teen marijuana use and in fact all drug use has seen a downward trend, even as marijuana stigmatization and illegality has soften across the US. A National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) survey last year, found that marijuana use among 8th and 10th graders continued to drop. It’s now at its lowest point in 20 years. While use among 12th graders, it’s remained flat for the past five.

So what does marijuana do to an adult’s brain? Find out here:

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists find a horrible new way cocaine can damage your brain

Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.

Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
  • Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
  • Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.