Marijuana – New Era/Old Concerns

By James P Lee, MD, FAAP

Legalization of marijuana in several states has shifted our perspective and acceptance that marijuana is a safe (or safer) drug more aligned with alcohol and cigarettes. But marijuana ,like alcohol and cigarettes, is by no means benign and we’re finding this to be especially true in the adolescent age group.

First, the statistics : 10-15%of middle schoolers and approx. 1/3 of high schoolers have at least tried marijuana and approx. 15-20%of high schoolers claim to use it fairly regularly (monthly).

With this in mind, the AAP recently updated their policy statement on marijuana, opposing legalization and encouraging ongoing research and public education on its effects in the adolescent population.

How does marijuana affect us and what are its short and long term effects on teens? See tables 1&2 below. Experts on substance abuse in the younger population continue to warn us both about its acute toxicity effects and its long term detrimental risks. Marijuana can have harmful effects to the developing adolescent brain that can affect cognition, provoke or trigger underlying mental disease (psychosis) and can contribute to addiction risk.

Marijuana Effects- Pediatrician Care in Mt. Airy, Frederick, Urbana and Monrovia MD     

These risks are directly linked to increasing risky behaviors common to adolescence with impaired driving (associated with alcohol consumption) of particular concern. Addiction risk is also significant and marijuana remains the primary drug of abuse in adolescents and makes up close to 90% of substance abuse treatment admissions. One in six teenage marijuana users will become addicted. Adding to this risk is the emergence in the past decade of more potent THC( the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana).

Increased potency of marijuana has been directly linked to increased ER visits for “overdose ” that include paranoia,acute anxiety/panic , psychosis and erratic or aggressive behaviors.

The take home message? Marijuana is not benign and poses both short and long term risks. Its negative impact may ironically be especially concerning for those who feel the need to seek it out. We must continue to drive home the message to the young and impressionable that marijuana, despite its legalization and becoming part of the main stream, is a risky and potentially dangerous drug; that its initial usage in adolescence may be especially concerning because it can affect the developing adolescent brain both acutely and set the stage for long term detrimental risks and addiction. Don’t let down your guard and don’t let popular (or pop culture) opinion fool you. The risks are real and we’ve all heard too many sad stories!

Marijuana Effects- Pediatrician Care in Mt. Airy, Frederick, Urbana and Monrovia MD