Concerns mount that medical marijuana will fall into wrong hands
Recent medical studies are calling into question medical marijuana’s potential impact on children and teens.
“Young adulthood is a very important time where your brain is still developing,” said Dr. Jodi Gilman, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and lead author of an April “Journal of Neuroscience” study where researchers were the first to find changes in the brain structures involved in reward, emotion and motivation among casual marijuana users from 18 to 25 years-old.
“The brains of the cannabis users look different than the brains of the non cannabis users,” said Gilman. “These differences strongly correlate with the amount of use.”
“Legalizing medicinal use of marijuana is only going to increase accessibility to medical marijuana and decrease the seriousness to which its taken,” said Dr. Mireya Nadal-Vicens, a child and adolescence psychiatrist at Mass. General’s Center for Addiction Medicine.
Right now, teens already smoke pot more than cigarettes, according to the CDC.
“Marijuana is taking a new position in terms of … the most popular substance used,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, the directory of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
In Colorado, where medical marijuana became legal in 2001, a study found that three-quarters of teens in substance abuse programs had used medical marijuana that wasn’t theirs. Those teens were also more likely to have used marijuana at a younger age, to be marijuana dependent and to have behavior problems.
“Kids who use marijuana heavily during adolescence are less likely to complete their education, to have a good job, to establish their own family,” said Levy. “Heavy marijuana use during adolescence is associated with drops in IQ.”
“It can cause or exacerbate depression … psychosis or schizophrenia,” said Dr. Tim Naimi, an associate professor at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health and clinician-investigator at Boston Medical Center.
Here in Massachusetts, teen addiction counselors, like Nadal-Vicens, are bracing for the worst.
“(Adolescent patients) are telling me that they’re going to go out and get cards for medicinal marijuana even though their use is recreational use,” said Nadal-Vicens.
The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, however, isn’t convinced, telling us, “Studies show that allowing patients access to this treatment does not increase youth use.”
But with an addiction rate among teen users of nearly one in six, the stakes are high.
“The problem with marijuana is it’s … a Russian roulette,” said Nadal-Vicens.
“These disorders are very real, and currently, there’s really not a lot of infrastructure to provide care for these kids,” said Levy.
Most experts agree that parents still are the best line of defense against teen drug abuse. In fact, kids are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs when their parents talk to them, according the Department of Public Health.
To help, the Department of Public Health launched its “Parent Power” campaign in March, a program designed to help parents steer those conversations.
For more information about substance abuse and children, visit Boston Children’s Hospital’s The Adolescent Substance Abuse Program.
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