EXCLUSIVE: Regular cannabis use in people’s mid-20s can cause permanent damage to brain development and legalizing the drug has WRONGLY presented it as harmless, drug safety expert says

  • Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, warned cannabis use among young adults was a ‘concern’
  • She called for ‘urgent’ research into the potential health risks of the drug 
  • Several papers have suggested regular use could be damaging mental development and affecting users social life
  • But these often also include people regularly using alcohol and tobacco, making it difficult to deduce whether cannabis is behind the changes
  • About 48million Americans use cannabis annually, a number that is rising 

Taking cannabis regularly in your mid-20s can cause permanent damage to the brain and its legalization in some states has wrongly suggested to many that it is safe, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has told DailyMail.com.

Dr Nora Volkow, who has led the agency for almost two decades, warned that cannabis use among young adults was a ‘concern’ and called for more ‘urgent’ research into the ‘potential health risks’ for the age group.

Her agency — which is part of the National Institutes of Health — revealed Monday that a record number of 19 to 30-year-olds were using cannabis in 2021, with one in ten admitting to using it every day. Around 30 percent used the drug at least once a month, with four-in-ten having used the drug at least once last year.

Numerous studies have warned that regularly using cannabis can harm brain development — which continues into the mid-20s — and that repeated users are more likely to struggle socially and face career and relationship problems.

But it is now only fully illegal in just four states — Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina and Wyoming —, with 19 approving it for recreational use and nearly every state already giving it the green light for medicinal use — typically to treat chronic pain.

Experts warn that legalizing the drug has led to it gaining acceptance in recent years, leading more people to try it. Stress from the COVID-19 pandemic has also driven up the number of people using it.

The above graph shows the proportion of young Americans surveyed who said they were using marijuana at least once a year in 2021. It reveals that levels are now at a record high

Volkow told DailyMail.com that cannabis use was likely surging because it has now been legalized in many states, making it ‘more appealing’.

‘Legalization not only has made access to cannabis easier for its regular use, but it has also contributed to the perception that cannabis is a “safe” drug,’ she said.

‘[This] makes it more appealing to individuals who are concerned of engaging in illegal activities or activities that endanger their health.’

Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told DailyMail.com that young people using cannabis was a 'concern'

Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told DailyMail.com that young people using cannabis was a ‘concern’

But she warned: ‘The trends that we’ve found [of rising cannabis use] highlight the urgent need to gain a better understanding of the potential health risks and benefits of cannabis use among young adults.’

Volkow pointed to studies suggesting that taking cannabis regularly, in high doses or over a long period may lead to problems with brain development — lowering IQs — and psychosis — where someone struggles to interpret reality.

She also pointed out the drug has been linked to social problems, including being linked to a higher likelihood of dropping out of school.

‘Brain development occurs into a person’s mid-20s, so cannabis use among youth and young adults is a concern,’ Volkow warned.

‘Long-term effects have been observed among individuals who report early, heavy and/or long-term marijuana use.

‘Studies have shown that heavy and long-term marijuana use is associated with impairments in cognitive development and early initiation of marijuana use is associated with a higher risk of dropping out of school.

‘Research has also shown an association between early, regular marijuana use and onset of psychosis as well as increased risk of anxiety and suicidality.’

She said that in the studies participants were also likely to be heavy tobacco or alcohol users, making it hard to determine whether cannabis itself was behind the mental and social issues.

Health agencies in the U.S. have been warning for years there is a ‘real risk’ that cannabis can harm a person’s mental development and their social life — including triggering problems with relationships, education and careers.

But their concerns have largely been swept under the carpet as many states push forward with legalizing the drug for recreational use.

In November another six states — Arkansas, Maryland, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Oklahoma — are set to decide whether to also liberalize the drug’s use.

Volkow did not detail what amounted to regular cannabis use, but studies show that even smoking it once a month could lead to heart problems. Others suggest that taking it once a week may damage the brain.

America’s $30 billion legalized cannabis industry is causing an ‘explosion’ of teen users

Teenagers in states that have legalized cannabis use more of it and are lured by colorfully-packaged candy-like products that leave them vulnerable to higher rates of dependency, psychosis and school dropouts, researchers warn.

A DailyMail.com analysis of research focusing on California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and other states that have legalized recreational pot shows experts warning of a ‘potential explosion’ of under-aged use — and more youngsters using it than in states where it’s illegal.

They are alarmed by the weak oversight of a $30billion business and warn of a free-for-all market in which super-strength cannabis products are sold in cartoon-covered packaging that attracts youngsters, even as tobacco and alcohol firms are barred from targeting youths.

Data from the 19 states