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For many Canadian teenagers, smoking a joint during their high school years is a rite of passage. But it turns out marijuana might not be the harmless drug a lot of us think it is.

Researchers at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry exposed a series of adolescent rats to THC (the stuff in marijuana that makes people high) to see how it would affect both their behaviour and brain development. What they found was that rats who had been exposed to the drug were socially withdrawn, had increased anxiety, cognitive disorganization and abnormal levels of dopamine (the brain’s “happy” compound)–all of which are present in people diagnosed with schizophrenia.

To make things worse, the changes in the brain prompted by the THC actually continued into adulthood, well past the rat’s initial exposure. That would suggest that marijuana can have long-lasting consequences on a still-developing brain. At the same time, however, when fully-grown adult rats were exposed to THC, they showed no harmful, long-term effects. Although researchers did note that all rodents in the study experienced what they’re calling “deficits” in social cognition and memory.

“Adolescence is a critical period of brain development and the adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable,” Anatomy and Cell Biology Professor Steven Laviolette said in a statement. “Health policy makers need to ensure that marijuana, especially marijuana strains with high THC levels, stays out of the hands of teenagers. In contrast, our findings suggest that adult use of marijuana does not pose substantial risk.”

In other words: marijuana is bad…right up until graduation day. You can learn more about the study in the video above.

Pineapple Express

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