Season 2, Episode 3

Making Sense of the Science: How Cannabis Use Impacts the Adolescent Brain with Dr. Kristen Gilliland

May 23, 2024

Emerging brain science is challenging the belief that cannabis use is harmless, especially during times of active brain development. Amid growing concerns about the widespread legalization of cannabis, our guest Dr. Kristen Gilliland shares the science and her unique lived experience to help us gain knowledge, compassion, insight and hope. You won’t want to miss this interview if you are concerned about a young person using cannabis.

As both a parent and scientist, Dr. Gilliland explains how highly potent cannabis products are harming the developing brains of young people. In this interview, she covers what we need to know regarding the industrialization of cannabis products, and what we need to do to understand the risks and safeguard our youth in an era where cannabis is increasingly prevalent.

Today we sit down with Kristen Gilliland to discuss the crucial information caregivers need regarding the impact of cannabis use on the developing adolescent brain. It is not as harmless as some marketers want us to think. We want to preface that this conversation will touch on the deeply sensitive subject of losing a child to an overdose. Please take care of yourself and skip this interview if necessary.

Kristen Gilliland was focused on building her career, raising her twin sons and living the Southern California lifestyle, when one of her sons began to increase his daily use of cannabis. The cannabis that was available to him was high potency THC which carries a greater risk of dependency. Over time, the frequent use altered her young son’s mood and mental health, eventually resulting in the development of a permanent mood and substance use disorder (SUD). Despite professional treatment, his SUD worsened, leading to a tragic, accidental and fatal overdose on opioids.

As a mother and scientist, Dr. Gilliland helps us understand the rare but real physical and psychiatric consequences of cannabis use during this critical developmental phase. She is driven to share this honest and unbiased information to keep this generation of young people healthy and safe while their prefrontal cortex and executive functioning skills fully develop. Dr. Gilliland shares the science and her lived experience to help us gain knowledge, compassion, insight and hope.

Explore more on the topics and themes discussed in this episode:

Dr. Gilliland’s Educational Documentary: Speaking Through Me

Interview with Dr. Gilliland on NBC Nightly News on harms of adolescent cannabis use

The DoorwaysNH 2-1-1 – The Doorway can connect you or a loved one to the care and treatment of a substance or mental health challenge anywhere in New Hampshire.

Every Brain Matters – We are a trusted educational resource for families and communities wanting to stay safe from the harms of industrialized marijuana and the expanding drug crisis.

Marijuana Abuse & Adolescence with Kristen Gilliland, YouTube video

What Is Addiction with Kristen Gilliland, YouTube video

Host & Guests

Featured Guest:

Kristen Gilliland. Ph.D.

Host: Christin D’Ovidio


Episode Transcript (PDF)

Listen and Subscribe

Apple Podcasts


RSS Feed

Kristen Gilliland is currently the Director of Outreach and Advocacy Programs at the Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery at Vanderbilt University. With a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry and as a professor of Organic Chemistry, Neurochemistry, and the Chemistry of Drugs and Poisons, Dr. Gilliland utilizes her scientific teaching, presentation, and research skills to educate young people and their caregivers on how mental health challenges can lead to substance use and/or substance use disorder. Since the tragic loss of her son, the result of an accidental overdose, Dr. Gilliland has become a national voice leveraging the scientific insights of self-care and compassion on brain development of adolescents. She’s developed an award-winning educational documentary, Speaking Through Me, to help teens and young people understand how their brains develop and grow, and are injured when under repeated stress and anxiety, as well as the impacts of high potency cannabis on the adolescent brain, the neurobiology of addiction, and the dangers and prevalence of fentanyl.

More Episodes

How Community Collaboration Can Improve Health for All

When communities come together to plan, implement and monitor the public’s health, it makes a difference. Learn how the City of Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services is leading the way with strong leadership and priceless collaborations.

read more