Although stressful situations in life have been understood as being triggers for substance use disorders, a recent analysis of adolescents conducted by a student found that even negative attitudes about stress can create vulnerability to addiction. Kashfia Rahman, a 15-year old high school student, conducted the research, which was presented at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. It is the world’s largest science competition for high school students.
Rahman’s study, titled Making the Mind Matter, was awarded the Addition Science Award for 2016. The subtitle for the project was Stress Mindset Effects on Sleep Quality, Stress Response, Emotion and Cognition in the Developing Adolescent Brain and the Role of the Prefrontal-Amygdala Circut. She found that there was a direct correlation between a negative outlook on stress and a physical stress response that negatively impacts sleep quality, emotion and cognition. These symptoms create a situation where the adolescents are then more prone to substance abuse and addiction.
“This novel project shows us how a teen’s approach to handling stress can impact addiction vulnerability, particularly in the developing brain,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “Ms. Rahman’s work may ultimately help scientists develop new and innovative programs to prevent substance use.”
The awards were presented at the Phoenix Convention Center in Arizona, and were coordinated by multiple organizations, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Ms. Rahman was also a third-place winner last year. It is nice to see science fairs cultivating interest and ingenuity and also encouraging research in fields such as addiction. Hopefully the information found in Ms. Rahman’s study can be used to emphasize other social programs in schools to help not just reduce stress, but also to positively impact thoughts about stress so that less young people become susceptible to addiction.
Surprisingly, with all the studies out there relating to drug abuse and human behavior, no one really knows for sure how marijuana affects the developing brain. While some people insist that marijuana is a harmless drug whose medical benefits far outweigh any negative side effects, there is not enough data to say for sure how dangerous or harmless it really is. Now that more and more states have voted to legalize marijuana in some fashion or another, researchers are anxious to study the effects of the drug on developing brains.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is planning to head a study that compares the developing brain of an adolescent who does not consume marijuana over time to the developing brain in an adolescent who uses marijuana. Researchers want to know what effects marijuana has on the developing brain. Along with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Child Health and Development, the groups will fund a large scale research study to hopefully provide answers to questions that have gone unanswered for a long time.
The study will recruit 10,000 adolescents and follow them for at least ten years. Every two years, the young people will receive a brain imaging scan as well as an interview focusing on their drug use. Researchers intend to recruit study participants from lower income families and families with known drug addicts.
Researchers are aware that the biggest hurdle in the study will be to gain the trust of the participants. Accurate, honest answers are the only way the study will be valid. Additionally, the study proves to be extremely expensive. It is projected that the study will cost at least $300 million.
Another question that researchers have to answer is how they are going to maintain the same tools throughout the ten years. Because advancements in technology are being made so quickly, it is likely that whatever imaging tool the study employs will no longer be relevant towards the end of the study.
The medical community is anxious to see the results of the study because it is important to more specifically understand the effects of marijuana on the growing brain.