Legal never has meant “safe” but the two words may at times overlap in our minds. When it comes to marijuana I’d suggest there is quite a bit of confusion right now about safety, recreational and medicinal use, and the effects of use on our population. In general, as laws change and access to marijuana increases we have a responsibility to be clear about what is known.
The adverse effects of marijuana in children and teens have been well-documented. Marijuana use can impair memory, decrease concentration, and change problem-solving capacity. It’s not good for the lungs nor long-term health; teens who use pot have a higher likelihood of drug addiction later on in life, the risks increase the earlier they start using. Research also finds that teens who use marijuana are less likely to finish high school, are more likely to use other (illicit) drugs, and have an increase in suicide attempts compared to those who don’t. The more they use, the more the effect. I can’t help but think about what a mom to a teen said to me recently in clinic, “marijuana is everywhere now.”
One in 5 high school students says they have used marijuana in the last month and up to 1 in every 16 students says they use it every single day. Who are we if we ignore these numbers?
As legal may mean “safe” to some a strong statement from pediatricians everywhere from The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was released today to set the record straight. The two things to know:
- Research has found marijuana has adverse effects on teen health. It’s now known that the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-20’s raising real concerns about what the drug does while the brain is still forming. The effects of marijuana change how teens think in school, how safe they are on the road, and potentially how they act for a lifetime (lifelong addiction risks increase with use, teens who use are less likely to finish high school, teens who use have higher suicide risk).
- Use Coupled With Criminalization Can Change Lives For Good: Legalization for medical and recreational use may imply marijuana is benign; for children and teens this is untrue. History shows that teens, especially those of racial minority groups, are incarcerated at higher rates secondary to possession or use of marijuana. A criminal record can have lifelong negative effects — the AAP is advocating to decrease marijuana crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, study effects of legalization in states like WA or Colorado, Alaska or in DC, and strictly limit access to and marketing of marijuana to youth. The big concern here as well is that policies that lead to more adult use will likely lead to more adolescent use. Decriminalization is especially important in states where recreational use is legal for those over 21 years of age.