Teenagers may be night owls, but according to new research by a UC San Diego assistant professor, those hours out of bed each night may be turning more teens into weed users.
In her study, psychiatry assistant professor Sara Mednick examined over 8,000 adolescents and mapped how sleep and marijuana use was connected between their social groups. Instead of examining the effects of marijuana on sleep patterns, the researchers analyzed drug use in the opposite direction. They studied how sleep patterns affected drug use.
Overall, the study found teenagers whose friends sleep less than seven hours per night are 19 percent more likely to become marijuana users. Lack of sleep in conjunction with social pressures from friends together lead to an increased chance of marijuana use.
Social networks in general influence behavior: There is an 11 percent likelihood that one teen will sleep less because a friend does. Chances of using marijuana are increased 110 percent if a friend is using the drug, according to the study.
“One behavior can influence another both within and between individuals,” Mednick stated in her study entitled, “The Spread of Sleep Loss Influences Drug Use in Adolescent Social Networks.”
The research connecting sleep and marijuana use can have implications for anti-drug campaigns and policy targeted at teenagers. The study’s researchers suggest incorporating napping programs within school systems.
The issue of sleep is a main problem within adolescent development and subsequent behavior patterns, including drug use. Dr. Deborah Stewart, UC Davis Medical Center department of pediatrics section chief, has studied and taught how the adolescent brain is delicate between the ages of 11 and 22.
In two recent presentations, Stewart, who is the medical director of the Child and Adolescent Abuse, Resource, Evaluation (CAARE) Diagnostic and Treatment Center, covered the topic of sleep, the brain and adolescence. The 2006 National Sleep Foundation Study, “Sleep in America,” found older teens report sleeping only 6.9 hours per night.
According to Stewart, lack of sleep can add to teens’ already present impulsivity and risk-taking, sensation-seeking and erratic behavior. These behavior patterns make for a higher chance of drug experimentation and curiosity at this age.
“Some neuroscientists now warn that adolescence may be one of the worst times to expose a brain to drugs and alcohol, or even a steady dose of violent video games,” Stewart said.
Dubbed “The Health Paradox,” teenagers are physically strongest and most resilient health-wise, yet overall morbidity and mortality rates increase 200 to 300 percent from childhood to late adolescence, Stewart said.
“Primary causes of death and disability are related to problems with control of behavior and emotion,” according to her presentation about the teen brain. “[There are] increasing rates of accidents, suicide, homicide, depression, alcohol and substance use, violence, reckless behaviors, eating disorders [and] health problems related to risky sexual behaviors.”
Here in Yolo County, CommuniCare, a non-profit health organization for the under and uninsured and low-income population of Yolo County, deals with the consequences of teen marijuana use. Adolescent Services Supervisor Linda Ryan said she estimates approximately 90 percent of teens who attend CommuniCare’s drug program have abused marijuana.
“A lot of kids report anxiety and insomnia,” Ryan said. “And they do tend to use marijuana to self-medicate.”
With about 50 teenagers in the program, Ryan said she has seen the use of marijuana bring down grades, school attendance and interest in hobbies. The harm reduction program aims to limit teen drug use with group meetings, counseling sessions and random drug tests.
“Part of our goal is to get them more focused on things they enjoy,” Ryan said.
With Mednick’s new research, perhaps programs in the future will include more information and resources on healthy sleeping patterns along with current drug reduction methods.
At UC Davis, Student Health Services has a program for students with drug-related problems. Alcohol, Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) Intervention Coordinator Stephanie Lake meets with students and gives students an assessment of their marijuana use. Students come voluntary, though some are mandated to join the program through the university. During the 2008-2009, Lake saw 49 students.
“Motivational training is helpful for students,” Lake said. “It helps with behavior change.”
Many students who have become dependent on marijuana have reported problems with “amotivation syndrome.” Lake also said that while under the influence of marijuana student are not going to get as good of a night’s sleep.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.