Counseling about Marijuana, the “new smoke”
The legalization of marijuana for some medical conditions could lead to children’s exposure and to wrong concept of its dangerousness by teenagers, that could use it illegally. Let’s see together what the American Academy of Pediatrics says about it.
In many regions of United States the use of marijuana is authorized in adults for the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain syndromes or for the patients receiving chemotherapy, while the only studies on children and adolescents limit its use to refractory seizures; the penalties for recreational use of marijuana have been reduced, though marijuana remains an illegal substance. The situation in Italy is almost the same.
These changes in legislation about marijuana have lead to a decrease in perceived risk by teenagers and in the future we could see an increase in use of this substance, especially in form of smoke. By the time, the marijuana plant has increased its concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), increasing the risk of adverse effects or addiction. Many studies have shown how dangerous is marijuana in teenagers, with problems (impaired memory, concentration, learning, motor control, judgment, reaction time) that can cause also death, mostly for car accident. There are also psychiatric and pulmonary consequences (active or secondhand marijuana smoke).
Some advices from the article: adolescents should be screened for substance use trough brief personal interview; if a teenager uses marijuana, the paediatrician should evaluate him/her with the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition (Marijuana use disorder). The professional secret with the adolescent should be broken if there is high risk for his/her safety.
For parents: “give the good example”, because actions speak louder than words; if the adolescent asks you about your marijuana use, it’s best to not share your own histories, but to speak in general; keep all marijuana products away from children; remember that your capacity to function safely as a parent could be altered by marijuana use, so pay attention when you are with your child.
In conclusion, some key messages: marijuana is NOT a benign drug or without risks for teenagers, because their brain is still developing; the adolescents who use it regularly may develop serious mental health disorders; the recreational use by minors is illegal; never drive under marijuana effects; the marijuana smoke is toxic, similar to secondhand tobacco smoke.
Paediatricians are in a unique position to intercept and try to correct the opinion of teens about marijuana and also of the parents that use it, that could better understand the risks for their children, for example from secondhand marijuana smoke.
Ryan SA, Ammerman SD; AAP COMMITTEE ON SUBSTANCE USE AND PREVENTION. Counseling Parents and Teens About Marijuana Use in the Era of Legalization of Marijuana. Pediatrics. 2017;139(3):e20164069