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Cannabis Addiction Is Linked to Higher Levels of Cortisol

Marijuana addicts have higher levels of “the stress hormone” cortisol.

Pixabay/Free Image
Source: Pixabay/Free Image

Researchers who have been studying the impact of marijuana addiction recently reported that boys who smoke marijuana during puberty display a wide range of hormonal differences when compared to those who have never smoked the drug.

The research team, led by Dr. Syed Shakeel Raza Rizvi, found that smoking marijuana had a significant impact on levels of “the stress hormone” cortisol. The scientists found that heavy marijuana smokers have significantly higher levels of cortisol than non-smokers. That said, in terms of causation vs. correlation... it's possible that marijuana addicts are using cannabis to self-medicate for anxiety.

Heavy Cannabis Use May Increase Stress Hormones and Stunt Growth

Rizvi hypothesizes that, “marijuana use may provoke a stress response that stimulates onset of puberty but suppresses growth rate.” Marijuana addiction appears to create a double whammy by increasing cortisol levels and decreasing growth hormone levels, which stunts growth.

According to the new study presented on May 18, 2015 at the European Congress of Endocrinology, boys who smoke marijuana go through puberty earlier than nonsmokers, but grow more slowly than those who have never smoked cannabis.

Boys who never smoked cannabis were an average of 4.6 inches taller by the age of 20 than the chronic marijuana smokers. Cannabis use in childhood could make young boys shorter for the rest of their lives. Previous studies have looked at the effect of smoking marijuana in adult rats and humans but this is the first time the effects of heavy cannabis use have been studied in pubertal boys.

The scientists at Pir Mehr Ali Shah Agriculture University Rawalpindi in Pakistan examined the levels of certain hormones involved in growth and puberty in the blood of 220 non-smoking and 217 marijuana-addicted boys. The researchers found that levels of hormones such as testosterone and luteinising hormone (LH) were increased in the marijuana smokers.

Marijuana is the most widely available illicit drug in Europe and many other countries. The latest report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reveals that the highest prevalence of marijuana use is in 15-24 year olds. Statistically, cannabis use is significantly higher among males than females.

According to the Economist, Americans spend an estimated $40 billion on marijuana each year. The legal market for cannabis was estimated at $2.5 billion in 2014. A majority of Americans (52%) are now in favor of the legalization of marijuana—in 1969 that figure was just 12%. What is the potential backlash of marijuana legalization and more widespread availability of cannabis on child development?

Conclusion: Excessive Use of Any Drug Has Negative Side Effects

As with any drug, heavy cannabis use and addiction take a heavy toll on your body, brain, and mind. The researchers of this recent study believe their findings may have a wider impact beyond just cannabis use during childhood development.

Early puberty is also associated with drinking and smoking—which are currently the most potentially deadly legal habits—at a younger age. Dr. Rizvi cautions, “if children mature earlier, they may have increased risk of substance abuse because they enter the risk period at an early level of emotional maturity.”

As the father of a 7-year-old, I'm on a mission to educate myself on the most effective ways to dissuade children from abusing drugs and becoming addicts. This is a work in progress.

Personally, I strongly identify with Madonna's upcoming single, Devil Pray. As a mother to four children, Madonna has written an insightful "anti-drug" anthem without any of the moral judgement or self-righteousness of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" public service announcements of decades past. If you have a chance, check out Devil Pray here.

Hopefully, my Psychology Today blog posts on substance abuse and addiction will help people from all walks of life maintain a moderate and healthy balance when consuming any type of recreational drug such as caffeine, alcohol, or cannabis.

As someone who has lost loved ones to drug addiction, I'm on a crusade to instill a "healthy fear" of highly addictive substances such as: nicotine, heroin, and crystal meth. These three drugs can hijack your brain and steal your life.

If you'd like to read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts:

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