Legalizing marijuana will harm kids: Joe Barber, M.D.

The American Academy of Paediatrics published a policy statement in January about the impact of marijuana use on youth. The AAP is strongly opposed to legalizing marijuana due to the potential impact on child and adolescent health.

Marijuana use is common in the U.S. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that more than 12 percent of those over age 12 years have used marijuana in the last year; the rate of use has been increasing since the 1990s. Statistics show that if this trend continues, marijuana use will overtake cigarette smoking for high school seniors.

The active ingredient in marijuana is a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol. This chemical stimulates brain receptors and produces hallucinations, illusions, dizziness, altered perception, impaired thinking and sedation.    Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia permit marijuana to be prescribed by a doctor for medical purposes. Two states, Colorado and Washington, allow its sale for recreational purposes and Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia voted in November to legalize marijuana.

There are many actual and potential risks from legalized marijuana. Legalizing marijuana portrays marijuana use as harmless and results in the commercialization and marketing of a proven harmful substance. Even with strictly enforced age restrictions, increased adolescent use would occur.

Commercialization will lead to the production of stronger marijuana products. The concentration of the active ingredient in marijuana has increased four times since the 1980s. The ingestion risk of edible marijuana products such as cookies and chocolates is 10 times higher when compared to smoking marijuana. Smoking effects are seen within seconds, but oral ingestion effects are much slower. This increases the risk of ingesting more of the chemical before feeling satisfied.

Accidental ingestion of marijuana-laced food products has led to young children being admitted to intensive care units for sedation and respiratory failure in the states that have legalized marijuana. Common negative effects in teens include decreased scholastic and sports participation and performance, a loss of interest in outside activities, a withdrawal from peer interactions, increased risk-taking behaviors, decreased driving skills, damaged lung function and increased interpersonal problems with family and friends

Marijuana is an addictive substance. It is estimated that 9 percent of all those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted to it. When this estimate is limited to teens, the addiction risk increases to 17 percent. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 2.7 million people in the U.S. over age 12 met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual criteria for addiction to marijuana.

Addiction symptoms are often overlooked because withdrawal symptoms may be minor or absent. Studies have repeatedly shown that teens who use marijuana several times per week have difficulty quitting, and the younger a child is when marijuana use starts, the greater the deleterious effects and the higher the chance for addiction.

Marijuana legalization poses a monumental risk to children and teens. The history of alcohol misuse by teens proves the limited potential of regulations and penalties to limit access by teens. The answer is clear. Legalizing marijuana is a risk we should not take.

JOE BARBER, M.D., is a pediatrician and child neurologist at Children’s Community Care Pediatrics-Erie Pediatrics. He is division chief of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Vincent Hospital and is active on social media (

 Source:   6th Feb 2014

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