Opinion Article; By Nicole Saphier, M.D.
There’s been an alarming rise in teenage marijuana use across the U.S. and it’s now at its highest level in 30 years. One reason may be that 10 states and the District of Columbia now allow recreational use of pot by adults, while 33 states have legalized medical marijuana.
Lawmakers in other states are considering legalization of the drug.
There’s a common misconception that marijuana is safer than alcohol and other drugs. As a medical doctor I know that marijuana is far from harmless and can have serious damaging effects on the health of users. A growing body of research confirms this.
And as a mother of three sons (one in college), I worry that legalizing the drug for adults sends a clear message to children that they can get high on pot with no negative impact on their health.
Yet a growing number of Democratic presidential hopefuls are calling for nationwide legalization of marijuana, realizing this is a politically popular cause, particularly among young voters. These candidates appear more interested in how their endorsement of legalized pot will affect their election hopes than in how legalization will affect public health.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., recently introduced a bill to legalize marijuana. Other senators competing with him to become the Democratic presidential nominee have signed on as co-sponsors of his bill – Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Fortunately, recreational marijuana use by children and teenagers is not legal anywhere in the United States and elected officials aren’t calling for that – and for good reason. But alcohol use is also illegal for teens and children, and that hasn’t stopped underage consumption. As with alcohol, when marijuana is available for legal use by adults you can bet some youngsters will find it easier to get their hands on it.
Many teenagers believe marijuana is harmless because they consider it natural – it comes from a plant rather than a lab. But heroin, psychedelic mushrooms and other harmful drugs also come from plants. Some plants are even poisonous.
In addition, today’s marijuana plants are grown differently than in prior decades and can contain two to three times more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the addictive ingredient that causes the sought-after psychoactive and mood-related effects – the marijuana high.
It doesn’t help that marijuana can be consumed in different ways. It can be smoked, mixed into foods and even brewed as tea. This may be enticing to the younger population.
But as research and discussions continue, it is becoming clear that both short-term and long-term marijuana use can cause serious problems with physical and mental health.
Physically, we know that marijuana is directly linked to breathing problems (if smoked), cardiovascular disease and gynecomastia (“man boobs”). As a breast radiologist, the first question I ask men when they come in because of enlarging breasts is whether they currently smoke marijuana or have smoked it in the past. Many times, the answer is “yes.”
There is also substantive evidence for associations between marijuana use and increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. Someone under the influence of marijuana – like someone under the influence of alcohol – is an unsafe driver and a danger on the road.
While marijuana poses health dangers for all age groups, its use is particularly worrisome for young people.
In addition to the physical effects, a recent large meta-analysis from McGill University in Quebec – published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – concluded that marijuana consumption in adolescence is associated with increased risk of developing major depression in young adulthood and suicidal thoughts.
This is particularly frightening because suicide has risen to become the second-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. Mounting marijuana use may be adding to it.
The adolescent brain is still under development. Psychotropic drug use during this time may consequently alter brain development – leading to poor academic performance, earlier onset of psychosis and permanently lowering the IQ of young people. The long-term consequences of this may change the course of the lives of young marijuana users.
Think of it this way: individuals with an IQ of 110 have an average net worth of $71,000 and individuals with an IQ of 120 have an average net worth of $128,000. Not only can marijuana use as a teenager affect someone’s body and mind – it may affect his or her future earning potential as well.
As a physician I am against the illicit and excessive use of any harmful substance, including marijuana, and I tell my children that. With expanding legalization I remain hesitant to support the use of recreational marijuana because I am aware of the associated negative consequences of its use.
Just because marijuana is legal does not mean it is a safe substance to consume – especially while the brain is still developing. Let’s remember that cigarettes and alcohol are legal, and their negative consequences are well known.
My concerns go beyond that of medical expertise. But as it seems to be increasingly difficult to navigate young adulthood, I don’t want anything further to add to the difficulties my three children will undoubtedly encounter through their lives.
And before our nation takes a major step to legalize marijuana, all the health concerns I’ve raised here should be carefully considered by our elected officials.
Source: Fox News
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