The legalization of marijuana in a majority of states for both medical or recreational use is making marijuana use more and more prevalent. It has also made it incumbent for pediatricians to have conversations with teenage patients (and parents) about the harmful effects of marijuana use.
We are now in the in the era of legalization of marijuana, and I find myself having more and more conversations with teenage patients who “think that weed is acceptable and safer than alcohol”. That statement alone is worrisome. In fact, I “hear” that many teens are using marijuana on a daily basis, and do not realize or are in denial about any long term deleterious effects of daily marijuana use.
“Marijuana is not a benign drug, especially for teens. Their brains are still developing and marijuana can cause abnormal and unhealthy changes” according to a just published clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Studies have shown that teens who use marijuana on a regular basis may develop serious mental health disorders including addiction and depression. (Some teens are wrongly trying to self-medicate their own anxiety and depression with a depressant). Marijuana may also decrease memory and concentration, as well as causing attentional and problem solving issues. Going to school “high” is just not conducive to academic success.
There are also studies that have shown that addiction may be related to daily marijuana use. 17% of people who use marijuana in adolescence may become addicted and that number may increase to 50% for teen who smoke marijuana daily. Daily alcohol use and marijuana use are both harmful but do effect the brain in different ways.
But even knowing those statistics, teen surveys done by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services found that there is decreasing concern for the risk of using marijuana once or twice a week among 12-17 year olds.
Parental use of marijuana is equally concerning. Parents not only expose their child to second hand smoke, but seeing parents using marijuana recreationally makes a child more likely to use marijuana themselves. Just like alcohol, being “high” on marijuana makes it difficult to parent and to provide a healthy home environment for a child.
Lastly, in my own years of practicing pediatrics I have seen more than a handful of teens who have had serious drug problems….they will all tell you their drug use did not begin with cocaine or meth or even heroin…..they all say it was marijuana that started them down the terrible path of drug addiction.
While there is a place for marijuana use in medicine for those with certain chronic conditions or for the management of reducing the side effects chemotherapy, marijuana use is not harmless and will never be.
Talk to your teens about drug use and specifically marijuana use…legalization does not make it safe. It is a slippery slope for sure.