Is your child smoking pot? I hope not, but parents are the last to know. Within the last five years, kids are smoking pot sooner and at higher rates. As marijuana becomes increasingly available (and legal), kids perceive the drug to be less risky. With the increasing potency of this addictive drug, marijuana poses a significant risk to the developing brain. Educate your kids now before they try their first pot brownie. That means a heart-to-heart talk with the facts BEFORE middle school!
Marijuana use is UP and smokers are starting younger.
Just as I’m hearing in my suburban psychology practice, five-year trends reflect increasing marijuana use among tenth through twelfth graders, with kids starting to smoke at younger ages than ever before. We haven’t reached the peak use rates of the 1970s, but we may be getting there.
However, there is hope! Teaching kids the facts may hold off experimentation. For instance, when popular media covered the adverse effects of synthetic marijuana (spice, K2, or wax), use rates went down. Educating your kids about the easily available marijuana their friends are smoking optimizes the chance they’ll use good judgment. Here are the facts parents need to know!
Today’s pot is far more potent than pot from the 1970s-1980s.
The average marijuana today contains 20-30% THC versus 1980’s pot which averaged 4% THC. That means that old research conclusions barely apply to today’s pot. Furthermore, as THC potency increases the number of cannabinoids decrease. Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds in marijuana that is responsible for proposed medical benefits.
Marijuana is physiologically and psychologically addicting.
Cannabinoids increase dopamine in the pleasure center of the brain. This is the same process that underlies the reinforcing effects of ALL addictive drugs. Because there is a high concentration of cannabinoid brain receptors in many different areas of the brain, marijuana has many effects on the user. This is why marijuana is in a drug class of its own with effects that qualify it as a hallucinogenic, sedative, or analgesic.
Similar to all drugs of abuse, there is clear and consistent evidence of tolerance, withdrawal, and craving resulting from marijuana use. For the benefit of three hours of a high, you have the cost of up to fourteen days of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, stomach pain, anxiety, loss of appetite, and insomnia.
Starting young and smoking often makes you dumber.
Chronic marijuana smokers younger than 18 years old demonstrate an average IQ decline of eight points and other signs of impaired mental functioning by age 38 years.
Marijuana has legitimate applications for some medical conditions.
The marijuana effects of increased hunger and happiness have been found to be helpful for the nausea, anorexia, and wasting experienced by people with HIV (Bedi et al. 2005; Haney et al. 2007; Lutge et. al. 2013) and chronic neuropathic pain related to HIV, multiple sclerosis, and peripheral neuropathy (Lynch et al. 2011; Ware et al 2010). However, marijuana is rarely recommended as first-line treatment due to side effects. Most studies evaluate the oral forms of marijuana rather than smokable forms.
Marijuana obscures psychiatric presentation and generally makes mental illnesses worse rather than better.
- Anxiety Disorders: Self-medicating with pot leads to cyclic withdrawal and heightened anxiety that is harder to treat with traditional therapies. Marijuana lowers GABA, natures calming neurotransmitter.
- Mood Disorders & ADHD: Marijuana dysregulates serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, the neurotransmitters related to mood and attention disorders. In other words, pot makes mood and ADHD symptoms worse.
- Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and a lack of initiative. It is typically incurable and progressive, often seen among our homeless population.
Here is the most disturbing research outcome I have read in my twenty-year career. The use of marijuana increases the chances of developing schizophrenia by 600% for heavy smokers, 400% for regular smokers, and 200% for any smoking (Andréasson et al. 1987; Stefanis et al. 2013)! This does not mean marijuana causes schizophrenia, but it certainly increases the chances that it will occur. I caution my patients often, why take that kind of risk with your life and brain health just to get high?
You can’t be sure all you’re smoking is marijuana.
Marijuana is often laced with more addictive drugs like cocaine, heroin, or PCP to keep buyers buying. Although adulteration if far less of a risk for marijuana than other drugs, the heavier the drug the higher its price. As a result, adulterants like lead, silicone, Mountain dew, and Windex have been commonly discovered in pot samples. Marijuana is also often treated with pesticides to optimize profitable quantities. So much for organic.
Chronic marijuana use is particularly harmful to the developing brain, because it decreases Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).
BDNF is a chemical that regulates the birth, survival, and repair of the cells that make up the brain. BDNF is responsible for what scientists call neuroplasticity, the adaptive processes underlying learning and memory.
Pot lowers BDNF levels. So if an adolescent’s brain is not developing normally, pot may make it worse (D’Souza et al. 2009; Zammit 2003). Clinically we have found that if we can get our client clean from marijuana after their first psychotic symptoms, they have a far better chance of recovery rather than suffering a progressive course.
Chronic marijuana use has been found to have various negative health effects, including:
- a suppressant effect on immune system (long-term unknown);
- an adverse effect on the reproductive systems of men and women (lower testosterone and lower sperm count in males and lower LH secretion in females), but there is no evidence of a change in fertility;
- no identified increase in birth defects, but may contribute to low birth rate and less maternal milk production;
- problematic behavioral syndromes including lower GPA, more truancy, higher drop out rate, and more delinquency.
Marijuana has become BIG BUSINESS.
Big tobacco money is investing in the marijuana industry. As a result, I anticipate the “mom and pop” head shops will be going bankrupt while even more slick marketing comes on the scene. There’s big money to be made at the expense of the public’s health…again (remember tobacco?).
As marijuana gets more addictive and capable of generating profit, we are seeing a more diverse product line of smokables and edibles, some of which are packaged to be attractive to children. Although there are no reported cases of death by marijuana overdose, there are increasing numbers of emergency room visits due to marijuana use. Safety groups are advocating for potency limits, better labeling, bans of products packaged to appeal to children, and a regulatory structure for marijuana similar to those that exist with tobacco and alcohol.
Regardless of your opinions about adult use of marijuana, I think we can all agree that marijuana is harmful for children and teens. I hope these facts inspire you to have a factual discussion with your kids. Although education isn’t all kids need to stay safe from drugs, I am frequently pleased to see my clients alter their course after a factual and reasonable discussion about the risks of marijuana on the developing brain.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetYourKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
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Paff, paff, pass it! By Jon Richter, CC by-NC-SA 2.0
So Young. By Will Bryson, CC by-NC-SA 2.0
Medical Marijuana. By Chuck Coker, CC by-ND 2.0
Denver 4/20 Marijuana Rally 2013. By Jonathan Piccolo, CC by-NC-SA 2.0
Money Money Money. By Filipe Garcia, CC by-NC-ND 2.0