Assembly Speaker, 21 January 2019 – UCL Academy
On Monday the 21st January psychological researchers from University College London came to give us a fascinating talk on the developing adolescent brain, mental health and its connection to the use of cannabis. As researchers they investigate the effect of drugs on people’s brains, behaviour and mental health and are currently doing a highly relevant study on the impact of cannabis on the adolescent mind. The reason they have specifically chosen this study is because it has been recorded that whilst our generation (generation Z) is drinking and doing other drugs less, the rate of cannabis consumption is increasing.
They started by engaging us in a quiz related to drugs and teenagers where we admittedly got most answers wrong. However, we learnt that 19% of teenagers have tried cannabis at least once, that cannabis is the most common drug that leads teenagers under the age of 18 to drug treatment and the U.S.A has the highest level of teenagers using cannabis.
Following this enlightening quiz, the assembly was split into three: learning about the brain, learning about cannabis and then the research that various psychologists have gathered thus far. Firstly, we were told that brains continue to develop until the mid-20s but different areas of the brain develop at different rates. It is the cognitive control system in the frontal lobe that is linked to making sensible decisions and this develops slowly into our mid-20s. This combined with the fact that the reward system in the brain develops in adolescence (more motivated to get rewards) and that teenagers are more affected by their peers means that we are more likely to make risky decisions like taking drugs. Secondly, we learnt that there are three main strands of cannabis: hash, herbal and skunk which have different compositions of the cannabinoids THC (this is linked to anxiety, psychotic like symptoms and addiction) and CBD (this is linked to helping with anxiety and psychosis.) The drug market has dramatically changed and the more popular type of cannabis sold is skunk; this has a much higher proportion of THC meaning the effects of it are extremely different from twenty years ago and can be addictive.
The researchers then informed us about addiction and how to know if someone is addicted based on various withdrawal systems. Their research shows that teenagers are becoming more and more addicted to this new type of cannabis and they are trying to find the cause of this. Based on a lifelong study of students one scientist has discovered that cannabis is linked to schizophrenia. Another study examined the impact of cannabis on the academic mind of young people. By comparing the predicted GCSE grades of year six students based on their SATS and what they actually received (after taking cannabis or not) they discovered that those who used cannabis more than fifty times by the age of 15 received lower GCSE grades. They did specify but this may have been correlation and not causation.
They then finished by supplying us with the tools to seek out help if we needed it and ways that addicts could help themselves. At the end they invited any willing 17 year old to take part in their new study of ‘How does cannabis use affect teenagers’ brains, cognitive function and psychological well-being’ which many were keen to participate in (and not only for something interesting to put on their UCAS application!)
This assembly allowed us to understand the scientific perspective of cannabis from a specialist view, which is different from the usual moral or economic perspective that we read about all the time. Therefore, we left the assembly feeling far more well informed.
Lily - Sixth Form Head Girl