By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
The legalization of marijuana in many states for medical and recreational usage 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 they do not realize or are in denial about any long-term deleterious effects of daily marijuana use.
According to a recent clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Marijuana is not a benign drug, especially for teens. Their brains are still developing, and marijuana can cause abnormal and unhealthy changes."
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, and also cause 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. Seventeen percent of people who use marijuana in adolescence may become addicted, and that number may increase to 50 percent for teens who smoke marijuana daily. Daily alcohol use and marijuana use are both harmful but affect the brain in different ways.
But even knowing those statistics, teen surveys done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that there is decreasing concern for the risk of using marijuana once or twice a week among those ages 12 to 17.
Parental use of marijuana is equally concerning. Parents not only expose their child to secondhand smoke, but seeing parents using marijuana recreationally makes a child more likely to use marijuana. 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, meth or 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, specifically marijuana use. Legalization does not make it safe. It is a slippery slope for sure.
Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. "The Kid's Doctor" TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid's Doctor e-book, "Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today's Teen," is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.
Printed in the April 2 - April 15, 2017 edition