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What Are the Main Risks of Marijuana for Children?

In recent years marijuana use has become a widely discussed topic, especially in healthcare and wellness circles. As experts in dietary & nutritional counseling for kids, Cumming pediatricians are uniquely positioned to address concerns regarding the impact of marijuana on children and adolescents. If you’re a parent worried about marijuana, follow this essential information to protect your child’s health and safety.

What Are the Effects of Marijuana on Children?

Marijuana is a mixture of leaves from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) and contains a mind altering substance called THC along with up to 400 other chemicals.It is generally rolled into a cigarette (joint) or smoked in a regular or water pipe (bong). Some individuals mix marijuana into foods (cookies) or tea.

The effects of marijuana are usually immediate. The THC is chemically similar to substances naturally produced in the brain and latch onto these areas. The affected areas of the brain include pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, appetite and time perception areas of the brain.

Short term effects include euphoria, memory impairment, increased appetite (the munchies). Some experience panic, fear, mistrust and more serious psychosis with hallucinations and paranoia. Pediatrician well-child visits are important for teens experiencing any of these symptoms.

Long term effects include changes in the areas of the brain that affect responses to stress, motivation and reward. Many feel that it is safer than cigarettes because it is “not known” to cause lung cancer but it is absolutely related to causing chronic cough, irritated breathing passages and increased mucous production. Long term use has also been implicated in emotional issues leading to depression, anxiety and more serious consequences like personality changes and even schizophrenia.

Marijuana’s effects depend on a number of factors including other drug use, genetics, gender and drug potency. The amount of THC in seized marijuana samples tested in 2012 contained an average of 14.5% THC compared to 4% in samples from the 1980s with some stains containing as much as 30%. Higher concentrations of THC can lead to more unpredictable and unexpected side effects and may lead to a greater risk of addiction, an issue that is currently being better investigated.

“Fake weed” (Spice, K2) is a combination of dry plant material that is sprayed with a THC like chemical. It is often more powerful and unpredictable than marijuana and has resulted in a large number of ER visits – usually for hallucinations, agitation, very rapid heart rate and vomiting.

Common Myths About The Use of Marijuana

Marijuana is harmless – “everyone is doing it”

There is more and more evidence suggesting that frequent use is linked to math and verbal deficits and selective impairments in memory retrieval thus affecting overall long term learning and school performance.Impairments in coordination and time perception can adversely affect driving and sports performance.There is growing evidence that suggests that the effects of marijuana on a “growing” brain are different than an adult brain.

There is an increased chance of negative effects including panic attacks, anxiety, social withdrawal and depression. A recent study out of Sweden found a 4 fold increase in the risk of development of major depression and an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. “Kids age 12-17 who smoke marijuana weekly are 3 times more likely than non-users to have thoughts of committing suicide”.

A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience identified changes in brain centers related to emotion and motivation regulation when marijuana was smoked between 1-7 times a week.

Marijuana is not addictive – “I can stop anytime”

There is a growing body of evidence in medical literature that is clearly stating that the effects of marijuana seem to be age related with long term effects occurring more often in “younger” users than adults. “Marijuana use has been shown to be 3 times more likely to lead to dependence among adolescents than adults.” Regular teen well check visits ages 17–21 are a good place to discuss marijuana use and its impact with your pediatrician.

“Marijuana just makes me mellow –nothing bad happens”

As we get more information about the drug, it is becoming very clear that it acts very differently in younger brains than in adult brains. Studies find that younger users report more aggressive behavior, anxiety and even hallucinations and psychosis.The more serious implication of early marijuana use is the increased risk of development of long term psychosis or schizophrenia. These are life altering illnesses that generally do not have a good long term prognosis.

How Can Something That Is Used as Medicine be Bad?

Marijuana use for medicinal purposes has become an extremely popular and debated issue in recent months.While it is true that THC in pill form can be useful in treating very limited symptoms like nausea in chemotherapy patients, the utility of smoking marijuana has not been established.

Unlike its portrayal in the media, there is just not enough information to justify the indication and consistent use of smoked marijuana in everyday medicine, especially in children.

Contact Us for Dietary and Nutritional Counseling in Cumming

Vickery Pediatrics provides well-child and sick visits for children of all ages, including guidance on marijuana and other lifestyle factors. We assist families in Cumming, Buford, Dawsonville, Gainesville, Johns Creek, Sugar Hill, Suwanee and Forsyth County. Call (678) 990-2501 or request an appointment now.

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