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SA Medical Journal: “Impossible to Argue That Teenage Cannabis Use is Safe”

SA Medical Journal: “Impossible to Argue That Teenage Cannabis Use is Safe”

Brett Hilton Barber

20 June 2022, 22:00:00

Cannabis Use During Pregnancy Increases Risks for Newborns

Pregnant Mothers and Foetuses Also Most at Risk

The South African Medical Journal  (SAMJ) has warned that “it is impossible to conclude that adolescent cannabis use is safe” – even given the paucity of data on the subject.  In an editorial in its latest issue, SAMJ, Africa’s most respected medical journal, argued that adolescents, pregnant mothers, and foetuses are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of cannabis. It said cannabis policy should ensure that  these groups received special consideration.


SAMJA’s comments come at a time when the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill is back in the hands of state lawyers to redraft. This after the Bill drew heavy criticism during the period of public input.  It is due back in Parliament in August 2022.

News 24 reported on 20 June 2022, that the SAMJ researchers consulted “multiple studies” and found that regular cannabis use is “associated with neurological changes and cognitive and emotional deficits in teenagers”.


It said “prolonged cannabis use during adolescence also disrupts the neuron maturation processes that occur during this period, with synaptic pruning and white matter development particularly affected. Adolescent cannabis use is also associated with cognitive deficits; adolescents who use cannabis frequently demonstrate more severe executive dysfunction than their adult counterparts.


“Critically, it is not yet clear whether these effects are reversible, with some evidence suggesting that cannabis-related neurocognitive impairments persist into adulthood, even after prolonged abstinence,” the researchers wrote.

Cannabis Use During Pregnancy Increases Risks for Newborns

The study found that many women who use cannabis during pregnancy also experience poor nutrition and inadequate prenatal care, making it difficult to highlight the effects of cannabis on foetal development from these other confounding factors. Evidence shows that cannabis use during pregnancy increases the risk of adverse outcomes for women and newborns.


Furthermore, study findings show that cannabis use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding alters the developmental trajectory of multiple brain regions and may result in functional consequences, such as impulse control, visual memory and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders during childhood.

The researchers say that parliamentarians should consider the harm cannabis causes in teenagers and pregnant women. 


However, they say that it does not mean cannabis legalisation should be resisted, but that policymakers need to ensure that “adolescent cannabis use should be actively discouraged and that pregnant women should be advised to avoid cannabis use”.

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