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Frequent Cannabis Usage in Teenagers Linked to Anxiety Disorders

Update Date: Aug 13, 2012 03:26 AM EDT

The legalized usage of cannabis has long been debated and researchers have been working for years together to discover the possible pros and cons of the herb which is used for fibre (hemp), for seed and seed oils, for medicinal purposes, and as a recreational drug.

The herb's popularity among young people as a recreational drug has always been a reason for concern and studies have been conducted to better understand how it affects the human brain when used for long.

A new research claims that teenagers who smoke cannabis once a week or more have double the risk of contracting anxiety disorders by the time they reach their late 20s, when compared to non-user. The effect is the same, even if they stop using the herb.

The study, conducted on 2000 Victorian teenagers further revealed that those who continued frequent usage of cannabis till the age of 29, were thrice as likely to have an anxiety disorder compared with non- or infrequent users.

Also, teenagers who used cannabis minimally, and started using it daily by the time they were in their late 20s, were at two and a half times as likely to have an anxiety disorder, the press release stated.

The most striking finding, however, is that that frequent users during teenage caused adult anxiety disorders up to a decade of ceasing cannabis usage. And this link persisted even when researchers considered factors such as mental health problems in their teens or other drug use in their twenties.

Professor George Patton of the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne.

For the research, students were followed up and interviewed over 13 years, starting in 1992. The interviews were conducted at an interval of 6 months during their teenage and then again when they were aged 20-21, 24-25, and 29.

"What we are seeing is a persistent association with anxiety disorders over a much longer period," said lead author of the analysis, Professor Louisa Degenhardt from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, adding that most other studies usually look into the effects of cannabis use on mental health only during adolescence and early adulthood.

 "Given that anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder in the Australian population, affecting over 14 per cent of adults in any 12 month period, we need to investigate the findings further because it is highly possible that early cannabis use causes enduring mental health risks."

According to Professor George Patton of the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne, the possible explanation for the findings could be that the brain is introduced to the herb at time when it is still developing rapidly.

"We know from animal studies that introducing cannabis during puberty brings about long lasting changes in behavior which persist even after administration of cannabis is stopped. These findings suggest that a similar thing may be happening," said Professor Patton.

"During the teen years the parts of the brain that are involved in managing emotions are still developing rapidly and it is highly possible that heavy cannabis use at this sensitive point could have long lasting effects."

However the authors write that it is possible that the factors which influence a person to start using the herb at an early age, could also be responsible for putting them at risk for common mental disorders.

"These common factors might include biological, personality, social and environmental factors, or a combination of these factors. This is a plausible hypothesis because social disadvantage is more common among persons who are problematic substance users and who meet criteria for common mental disorders," they write.

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