Addiction Psychiatrist Talks To Parents About Marijuana

The legalization of marijuana is big business, putting money ahead of people. The rapid, widespread legalization of medical and recreational marijuana is sending Americans the wrong message…that marijuana is not harmful. NIDA's research shows that as perceived risk goes down, marijuana use goes up. Teen marijuana use is on the rise, as are marijuana-related emergency room visits and admissions to treatment. Marijuana is definitely not harmless, particularly to those under the age of 24.

Today's marijuana is at least 4-7 times more potent than 30 years ago. Dabbing, a growing trend, uses concentrated marijuana extract which is 70-95% pure THC. Dabs represent the crack cocaine of cannabis. Historically, cannabis wasn't thought to be addictive. The science is unequivocal that both marijuana withdrawal and marijuana addiction DO exist. 1 in 6 teenage marijuana users will develop marijuana addiction by 24. Among daily marijuana users, 25-50% will become addicted. Addiction risk increases 4 times if the parent has a substance use disorder and doubles in the presence of ADHD.

Regular marijuana smoking changes adolescent brain structure and function. Brain imaging reveals decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, leading to problems with attention, problem solving and time management. Brain imaging also shows decreased volumes in the hippocampus, the learning and memory center. Studies show a drop in IQ among regular teen marijuana smokers, up to 8 points, and these IQ points are irretrievable once the person stops smoking (similar to the permanent IQ drop seen after exposure to high levels of lead). Cognitive deficits are worse in heavier, more regular teen smokers and those with a young age of onset.

Regular marijuana use in teen years is associated with an increase in mental health problems, academic failures, unemployment and drug addiction in adulthood. Marijuana worsens the executive functioning deficits seen in ADHD. The American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that “there is no current scientific evidence that marijuana is in any way beneficial for the treatment of ANY psychiatric disorder. In contrast, current evidence supports a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm.”

Adolescent cannabis use increases the risk of adult psychosis in genetically vulnerable individuals. When there's a family history of psychosis, regular marijuana use doubles the risk of developing a lifelong psychotic disorder. Some researchers now attribute 8-15% of schizophrenia cases in some countries to marijuana.

Alarmingly, the only decent research supporting the use of medical marijuana has been done surrounding spasticity in multiple sclerosis, appetite loss/wasting in HIV/AIDS and chemotherapy-related nausea. The FDA has not approved the marijuana plant as a safe and effective drug for any indication and does not recognize marijuana as medicine. Call us today at: (800) 560-1599


Dr. Patricia Halligan is an addiction psychiatrist in private practice in Penfield.

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