Addiction

Updated 28 February 2017

Dagga can lead to smart kids making dumb choices – study

With South Africa in the process of legalising dagga, a new study concludes that brainy students on marijuana tend to make irrational decisions.

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Smart students usually know better than to light up a cigarette. But when it comes to drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, these same whiz kids are likely to let their better judgement take a backseat to "party" time.

In the light of the fact that South Africa may soon legalise dagga for medicinal purposes, experts are warning that we might be making hasty decisions that can lead to long-term abuse, especially among young people.

Legalising dagga in South Africa

Dr Shaquir Salduker, board member of the Psychiatry Management Group (PsychMG) says he believes the proposed legislation of dagga requires review and thorough research, which to date has not been done.

“We simply don’t have enough research to understand the complexity of the substance to say it’s safe to use in the long term,” Salduker told Health24.

“If we legalise it as a medication, young people will start to think it is okay to use cannabis, and this is extremely dangerous to children, adolescents and young adults. Their brains are still developing and the harmful effects of dagga on their development have been proven.”

“I have young people who develop psychosis and schizophrenia because of abuse and then they refuse to take medication, because they read about the health benefits.”

Dagga and academic performance

New research from the United Kingdom revealed that students who excel in English, maths and science appear to be less likely to smoke cigarettes than those with poorer results. But smart teens are more likely than their less-brainy peers to knock back some drinks or smoke dagga.

The study, led by James Williams of the University College London, UCL Medical School, included about 6,000 students, starting at the age of 11. The kids came from nearly 900 schools in England.

Until they reached the age of 19 or 20, all of the study participants regularly completed behavioural questionnaires, which included questions regarding use of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.

Academic success was gauged by scores registered on a national British test that measures achievement in English, maths and science, the study authors noted.

While still in their early teens, smarter students reported less tobacco use, but drank more alcohol than lower-scoring students. The academically gifted were also more likely to report using pot, but at levels that weren't deemed statistically significant.

In addition, young teenage students with "average" academic scores were found to be 25% more likely to use pot on occasion than students with lower test scores. Average students were also 53% more likely to smoke pot "persistently" than their less academically adept peers, the findings showed.

Smarter kids drink more

By the time they were in their late teens, smarter kids were more than twice as likely to drink regularly than their less academic peers, though relatively less likely to engage in "hazardous" excessive drinking. Students with good marks were also more likely to drink regularly than those with lower scores, according to the report.

Smart students in their late teens were 50% more likely to smoke pot on occasion – and two times as likely to smoke pot persistently – than those with lesser grades, Williams and colleagues found.

The researchers stressed that this study didn't find a cause-and-effect relationship. It was only designed to find an association between academic performance and substance use.

The study was published online in the journal BMJ Open.

The investigators pointed out in a journal news release that their findings are similar to those reported in adults.

The results of the new research suggest that patterns of alcohol and drug experimentation seen among early teens don't appear to be a passing phase.

Instead, the study authors concluded that the findings provide "evidence against the hypothesis that high academic ability is associated with temporary experimentation with substance use".

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