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Neuropsychologist points to 'marijuana hangover' in teen murder case


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OMAHA, Neb. —
A 14-year-old will be sentenced as an adult with second-degree murder.
Zachary Parker, 17, died in February, after gunfire from near 25th Street and Crown Point Avenue. Detectives believe a drug deal led to the shooting.
Defense attorneys tried to move the case against Tyon Wells to juvenile court, but the Nebraska Court of Appeals sided with prosecutors.
Prosecutors argued Wells' motivation for committing the crime was to buy marijuana and support his drug habit.
Neuropsychologist Colleen Conoley evaluated Wells while he was at the Douglas County Youth Center. She told the court Wells began smoking marijuana at 12 years old.
Conoley also told the court Wells smoked marijuana multiple times a week, and that it resulted in a "poor ability to regulate anger."
What Conoley said is less obvious, are the after effects from smoking marijuana.
"I've used the term 'marijuana hangover' to explain those silent, or after effects that aren't so obvious," she said.
"It's that downgraded effect that tends to happen. For days afterwards, there's almost a dulled effect, or a 'fog.' Most importantly, is that it really interferes with the brain's ability to make and form new connections that represent memory," she said.
Conoley said, in a developing teenage brain, that can affect the brain long-term.
"There can be lasting changes and less brain development: fewer verbal skills, less of an ability to pay attention; to consolidate memories, to learn things -- versus an established adult," she said.
Research from the late 1980's showed scientists an early use of marijuana in teens results in less gray and white matter -- meaning, less volume in the brain, versus another teenage who didn't smoke.
"But it also severely increases the likelihood of developing all sorts of mental problems," Conoley said. She clarified marijuana is not the primary cause of mental health issues, even as extreme as schizophrenia and psychosis; rather, Conoley said, it would be considered a 'component' cause.
"In people who are vulnerable to psychosis, that can start the onset of psychosis. Marijuana can intensify it and sustain it over time," she said.
Documents from the Nebraska Court of Appeals showed Conoley testified that her own testing revealed Tyon Wells "scored high on a scale measuring violent and aggressive tendencies and psychopathic features."
Still, Conoley recommended Wells' case be moved to juvenile court, after Wells told her he recognized he needed to address his anger problem and marijuana use.
"In a perfect case scenario, I would like to have one last shot at that juvenile," Conoley said. "My job is behind treatment, my job is behind trying to create change."
Conoley wants parents and teenagers to have as much information as possible, so they can have a real conversation about the substance.
"I think it's important to have an informed society. I'm not for criminalizing it. I'm not for throwing more people in jail, or saying that marijuana's a bad drug, but I do think it's important for adults and parents, to understand that it's not completely a benign substance. Not that marijuana is a bad substance, it's just that it's not a consequence-free substance," she said.
Wells was found guilty of second-degree murder Nov. 8. He pleaded no contest to the murder charge, and the state of Nebraska dismissed both a second-degree assault charge and weapons charge. Wells will be sentenced Jan. 30.
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It's either a harmless, recreational drug or it's the cause of poor judgement leading to criminal behavior.  They get to spin it either way, depending on the circumstances.

Edited by MtnBiker
Added a word I missed on the initial version
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