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02-23 Push to remove cannabis billboard ads from freeways

Push to remove cannabis billboard ads from freeways

For many years, people have fought to have advertisements for beer and hard liquor removed from anywhere children are likely to congregate – schools, playgrounds, libraries and residential neighborhoods. Since marijuana has become legal for recreational use in certain areas, that fight has now come to include banning the advertising of marijuana use on billboards along state highways.

Proposition 64 passed in November 2016 in California, allowing people age 21 or older to possess, transport, obtain or give away to other adults 1 ounce of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis.

However, newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions has promised to begin pursuing criminal prosecution for selling and using marijuana in California. Federal law supersedes state law, and afederal law continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and Ecstasy.

California has no laws against billboards advertising alcohol, but individual cities including San Diego and Oakland have banned beer and liquor ads where children tend to congregate. In San Diego, billboards for alcohol are forbidden within 1,000 feet of schools, recreation centers, playgrounds and libraries.

California legislators proposing billboard restrictions on marijuana caution that children might interpret that marijuana use is something fun to do, and the billboards are visible to children riding in the back of a family car.

Marijuana and the growing brain

Regardless of the over-21 age limit, legalization could make marijuana more easily accessible to much younger people whose brains are still developing. According to the American Psychological Association, short-term marijuana use impairs attention, memory, learning and decision-making. Those effects can last for several days.

Sovereign Health’s Rancho San Diego treatment center treats adolescents and teens specifically, providing therapy for behavioral health problems including substance abuse. Staff member Brandon Like, IMF said, “At Rancho San Diego, approximately 80 percent of the patients have a history of cannabis use or are currently diagnosed with cannabis use disorder. This is particularly concerning given research that correlates cannabis use with an increased occurrence of mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety and identifies adolescent use as a potential risk factor for developing a serious mental illness like schizophrenia.”

Researchers in New Zealand carried out a long-term study of the effects of marijuana use on people of varying ages. Duke University psychologist Terrie Moffitt, Ph.D., and colleagues gathered data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study following 1,000 New Zealanders who were born in 1972.

Study subjects responded to questions regarding use of marijuana at ages 18, 21, 26, 32 and 38. They also took neuropsychological testing at ages 13 and 38. The team discovered that persistent marijuana use was connected to a drop in IQ even after the team made adjustments for academic differences. The heaviest users, those who reported using marijuana in three or more waves of the study, experienced a drop of about six IQ points.

Susan Weiss, Ph.D., director of the division of extramural research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said in an article by Joanne Chu, “That’s in the same realm as what you’d see with lead exposure. It’s not a trifle.”

At least until the early or mid-20s, a person’s brain continues to develop, meaning adolescents may be particularly prone to lasting damage from marijuana use. The frontal cortex – the brain area responsible for planning, judgment, decision-making and personality – is one of the last brain areas to develop completely.

The endocannabinoid system in the brain controls cognition, neurodevelopment, stress response and emotional control. In teens, that system is still developing, and repeated marijuana use can reduce cellular activity.

Marijuana’s lasting effects

Studies have discovered indications of brain changes in teens and young adults who smoke marijuana. Rocio Martin-Santos at the University of Barcelona and colleagues analyzed 43 studies of chronic marijuana use and the brain. They discovered regular evidence of structural brain changes and distorted neural activity in marijuana users. The results suggested that the brain changes occurred soon after adolescents began using the drug. The changes may remain even a month after using marijuana.

Staci Gruber, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core and the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) Program at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School, found that brain changes were linked to cognitive differences. She discovered that regular, heavy users (smoking five of the last seven days and 2,500 times in their lives) showed damage to the white matter of the brain, the area which enables communication between neurons. The changes were linked to an increase in impulsivity.

Edible marijuana (mixed with food items) poses problems due to users not being aware of what is considered a “dose.” Edibles take longer to produce psychoactive results, and individuals can overindulge while waiting for the initial effects.

Advertising marijuana on billboards has no beneficial use (except for those selling it) and can clearly be a danger to adolescents, teens and young adults.

Sovereign Health provides treatment for substance abuse, including marijuana, and two of our facilities specifically treat adolescents and teens, Rancho San Diego in California. Maintaining cognitive health is crucial to the developing brain, and Sovereign uses state-of-the-art technology to foster optimum brain development. If you or a loved one needs help as a result of cannabis use, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Veronica McNamara is a content writer for Sovereign Health. She is a former registered nurse who enjoys writing about the causes and treatment of addictions and behavioral health disorders. She is a proponent of further public education on the subject of mental illness which, unfortunately, still bears an unwarranted stigma. For more information and other inquiries on this article, contact the author at

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